Book review: Start Somewhere by Ian Lynam

As I’ve been thinking about writing for a while, the list of essays I want to write keeps getting longer. Now, that doesn’t mean that the essays themselves are getting written though.

I keep buying more books that look interesting. I keep reading blog posts that attract my attention. I keep liking instagram posts that I am envious of because they’re posting about content I want to be involved with (and they’re getting hundreds of likes). All of this can be great and really inspirational or it can be creatively debilitating. Everyone knows it’s really easy to over-consume artistically. Instagram makes it too easy and we have less and less appreciation for the long read or taking time to develop a style. So where do you start? Enter Start Something A handbook of dubious exercises, tips and rants about becoming a designer who writes by Ian Lynam.

I saw this on Draw Down (this shop is amazing and full of great books but the postage is really high for the UK so I bought it straight from the publisher) and the zine format, reasonable price and title alone grabbed my attention. I bought it a while ago and despite it’s accessible length (A5 70-odd pages) I’ve only got round to reading it now but I’m annoyed I waited so long because it’s great.

That’s the general gist of this review: this booklet/zine is great.

It’s completely unpretentious and its aim is to remove the barrier that designers can feel when they’re aiming to create their own content. (Lynam even says, stop calling it ‘content’ and you’ll do yourself a big favour.) There are a few, unconventional, exercises throughout it that are aimed just to get you writing something down and to get the ball rolling – no matter how daft or awkward that writing might be. (I didn’t see them applying much to me, given the essays I want to write, but I could see how they would help others.)

The main bit that really stood out to me though was the section titled Micro-curating.

Lynam encourages the reader that small scale exhibitions can be really easy to create, organise and also give you a great reason to write something for. This alone could sum up a lot of what Lynam is encouraging throughout the zine, i.e. don’t overthink your ideas to the point they become too overwhelming. Those ideas can be really niche and that’s ok, just get those ideas out of your head and onto paper. Lynam doesn’t say this exactly but I also took this to mean don’t be concerned with mass appeal and striving for likes and shares. In the section ‘Tip: No really, fuck content’, he writes “Remember how I said that most design writing is boring… Most designers are actually boring… [sic] because they’re hiding from who they really are and acting like they’re being someone or something that they are ‘supposed to’ be.” This is so obvious it’s brilliant. Now I want to make clear this isn’t aimed at anyone and is in no way throwing shade at many other, very talented designers! I just took this as a huge release to design, write, create what you personally want to do.

I know as designers we have clients and briefs and restrictions, I’m not talking about that. I see this as relating to passion projects. Personal work. Getting on and creating that work, irrespective and, almost certainly, absent of any client. Then if you get commissioned to create that work, great! If you don’t, who cares, you are creating the work you want to create, for yourself, and that potentially really niche audience who will love it as much as you do.