"The world doesn't need another... how-to manual on how to be creative," says musician Darden Smith while discussing his new book The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living). "I think there's some really good ones out there, and I don't even know how to do it, so I don't know how to write it."
The Habit of Noticing, Smith's first book, isn't a how-to manual or a self-help book. It takes a more poetic and artistic approach to the subject matter; it's full of observations and bits of advice on living a creative life, but they're presented in a style that's somewhere between prose and poetry and they’re interspersed with Smith's drawings and photography.
The unique writing style of The Habit of Noticing wasn't always part of the plan, Smith says. It was originally written in a more straightforward prose style. "I wrote it all longhand; I wrote it all out in my notebook," he says. "And then when I went to put it into my computer and try to edit it, it was just really boring. The way I'd written it in prose just didn't... it didn't have any rhythm to it, there was no singability to it. And not like I'm going to go sing these things, but it just didn't work." Later, while staying with a friend in Marfa, Smith took a different approach to the material. "One night I just tried to break it into lines, make it look more like a song," he says. "You know, I've been writing songs since I was ten years old, so everything kind of looks better that way."
The result is a book about art that looks like an art book; the stories, memories, and bits of advice are mixed with photographs Smith has taken of friends and places he's visited, and also with his drawings. "For the last twenty-five years, I've been drawing all the time -- when I travel, especially. If I have a bit of spare time, I'll just draw the first thing I see," he says. "And it's really just a way to... control my happiness and make sure that I am happy once a day at least. And from that, I started to sort of wake up seeing and noticing things around me. And it's not really that different [from] writing songs, or cooking a meal, or talking to a friend, you know? You're just paying attention, really."
That idea of using creativity to find joy is central to the book. "It's not only for people who want to... 'make a living as an artist,'" Smith says. "It's more about... in all of our lives, we all need more creativity in our lives, and we all need to find a way to plug in and... be in charge of our own joy. So a lot of the stories are about, 'How to find joy every day? How to find happiness?'"
'The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)' is available now; Darden Smith will be at Book People on September 21 for a book signing and at the Stateside Theatre on September 22 for a live performance of music and readings from the book.