Creativity by John Cleese

When it comes to getting creative, particularly with writing, we all know the key is to just get started. You’re not going to come up with anything by going about your normal day to day routines and hoping it is somehow getting done, you actually have to put the effort in and begin.

There’s an old video doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment, a talk by John Cleese on how to get the creative juices flowing, and it’s really well worth a watch. If you want to skip to the abridged version, I have made some notes below the video with what I took away from it.


Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.

It is unrelated to IQ. It’s not that you can either do it or you can’t, but those that are good at being creative are good at getting themselves in a particular mood.

General, everyday moods are closed – hectic, anxious, tense, with a list of jobs to do and a slight feeling of relief when each is ticked off.

To be creative, you have to generate an open mood, and for that you need five things: 1) space 2) time 3) time 4) confidence and 5) humour.

In brief, they relate to:

  1. Space. Get away from the closed mind situations physically, and find a space where you will be undisturbed.
  2. Time. Allow for a specific and definite period of undisturbed time. 30 minutes is too short, as you need time to relax the mind and let it open, 90 minutes might be ideal. Tolerate/ignore the racing mind (sharpen pencils, take out bins, make more tea, etc) until it quietens.
  3. Time. Know what time you have for the project. If there are decisions to be made, know when and don’t rush. Don’t accept the easy answer if you have time to keep thinking through for better solutions.
  4. Confidence. Risk saying/writing things. While you are being creative NOTHING is wrong. It can be useful to surround yourself with other people, but not if they make you feel defensive. And likewise, don’t disparage others.
  5. Humour. Allowing humour into the situation, even if the topic is serious, can allow the mind to get to the open mode quicker.

Creativity starts with connecting two separate ideas to create new meaning.