In this book, Beadle argues from the position of a system-breaker and does so with a rage which can only suggest he feels like a genuine outsider.
Reading the first 50 pages of the book is tough, not only due to the bizarre layout which includes several pages in an enlarged font and others with two or three words dropped in various corners, presumably in a nod to subversiveness, but also because of the toxic levels of anger that permeates each page.
Metaphors of slavery and oppression are spat out at the reader, cleverly positioning those who agree with the writer as freedom fighters, artists and truth seekers, while critics are at best ‘intellectually paltry […] guardians of average’ and at worst ‘slavers’. Yet in his battle against the elite Beadle seems to have neglected to notice that as a progressive celebrity teacher, he is himself the elite, and the ideas of writers such as Barnes, Wilde and Hitchens that he references throughout are hardly those of the underdogs.
When the book moves beyond the visceral emotion, we begin to get more of a sense of humility and with it some actual ideas to put into practice.
Toxic levels of anger permeate each page
Beadle’s work as a writer becomes useful fodder for advising fellow writers; he challenges the notion of writing talent emerging through osmosis after reading great writing and instead encourages building knowledge of writing, whether it be grammar, punctuation or imagery, alongside regular deliberate practice. Equally he includes sage advice for creatives about the balance between ideas and action: real mavericks will be judged by their output, not simply by the ideas they manifest.
Despite describing evidence-informed work as ‘a bloodless script delivered by clueless automatons’, the nods to deliberate practice, mastery and honing your craft based on your strengths don’t seem far from Willingham or Lemov, while chapter three, where he discusses the importance of failure, feels like Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’ on speed. It is in this practical advice to an imagined maverick reader where Beadle finds his rhythm and offers some interesting thoughts on the self-imposed behavioural handicaps we use to protect ourselves against failure.
The different chapters on production, work and performance all contain glimpses of sensible ideas such as how to maintain your creative voice while making the most of interesting collaborations, and the importance of chipping away at your work even when you plateau.
It often feels as though the book is a deliberate provocation
Modelled as a manifesto, one can understand the lack of detail and the reliance on overarching ideas and values, though avid readers of educators and social scientists will find this frustrating. There is also something admirable about Beadle’s writing style, which is poetic at times and demonstrates his commitment to the idea of the writer as artist, though it does lead to style over substance.
Beadle advises creatives not to worry too much about evidence or detail, relying instead on experience and true voice, so perhaps this is a calculated choice. It often feels as though the book is a deliberate provocation: it is flooded with contrasts, contradictions and non-sequiturs (one segment on appearance claims ‘your hair will be the object of much derisive laughter’) that seem like a knowing challenge.
The book’s call to reject the ‘beige’ of conformity and mediocrity, and to work hard and hone the quality of creativity is worthy, but is lost amongst the simmering resentment and ideological agenda in which the book is immersed. The reader is asked to reject the mainstream and the popular in favour of their individual voice but this includes an implicit acceptance of a particular set of tastes, whether these be musical, literary or political.
Despite being told that a maverick sings to their own tune, it appears that this tune has to be chosen from Beadle’s carefully crafted playlist.