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.

Five tips for easing back into writing

Recently, I’ve noticed a few people lacking motivation when it comes to writing – specifically in this instance about blogging. I thought I’d share a few of my favourite tips on getting back your writing mojo, whatever the project, because it’s a new year and a good time to blow the dust off that keyboard.

I’m not an expert, by any means, but I’ve written and I’ve had writer’s block, and these are the tips that have helped me. If you’re struggling to get the motivation to write, try one or more of these on for size, and see how you get on!

  1. Don’t start with a blank page. Obviously, it’s hard to achieve this because you always have to start from a blank page at some point. But a way around it is to make a list of five topics you might want to write about. Then, go away, think about it and when you return, add in some quotes or links or tiny bits of research you might have found about each topic. Repeat as necessary. Each time you come back to your list, you’re no longer faced with a blank page, but instead have the notes that could get you started on a pretty awesome post.
  2. Switch something around. Maybe you’ve been using the same blog theme for a long time. Perhaps you need to refresh your header. Maybe, like me, it’s time to move on to a whole new blogging platform. Sometimes, just a little change can make things feel fresh and new, and give you a little bit of inspiration to fill the good-looking page with content.
  3. Write like no one is reading. If you’re keeping up a blog online, it’s likely you want people to read your words. But equally, that can be a mental barrier to getting the words out of your head and onto the page. People are actually going to read this? What if it’s not good enough? Instead of worrying about it, write as though no one is going to read it. Perhaps turn comments off. Perhaps publish but don’t plug your work. Maybe even set up a secret site somewhere so that no one really is reading. Whatever it is, it may help boost your confidence that you do know how to write, and that people may actually be missing out on your work.
  4. Start small. You don’t have to be groundbreaking all the time. You don’t have to be groundbreaking at all. If you’re struggling for topics, or worried about what to write, start with something different, unusual, and most of all, not too taxing. Forget the 1000 word essay on the future of microbiology. Why not take a picture, post it, and explain why you like it? Or pick a handful of your recent tweets and expand on them. Perhaps review something you watched/read/played recently. Those items in themselves may then propel you on to bigger and better things. And if not, they’ve at least got you posting again.
  5. Just do it. To borrow from a certain sports company, in the end, you just have to get on with it. The painful part about writing is that there’s no way to solve any of the issues you have without just doing it. Whatever your reason for not writing is, the solution is always going to be to just hit the keyboard and don’t be scared of that publish button. You never know what you might end up with.

Research (and distraction) has always been at your finger tips

The amazing thing about the internet is that you can research almost anything and get an answer within a few seconds. There is plenty of questionable information out there, but if you use a sensible head and double check your sources and facts, you’re likely to do well.

The difficult thing about the internet is that you can do almost anything when you’re trying to research something. News, video, music, games, social, it’s all there at the tips of your fingers and when procrastination comes easily to you, the internet can be a goldmine.

Where traditionalists would say doing your research physically, in a library, helps with that problem, I tend to disagree. I haven’t been in a library for several years now, but when I did used to visit, I wouldn’t just stick to the books I was supposed to be looking at. For every on topic tome there would be a stack of others that were just as or more interesting. Perhaps distractions aren’t so easily come by, but then neither is the resulting information you are after.

Ultimately I’d say the time saved using the world wide web for its intended purpose of shared knowledge is used up by the time spent navigating all the other fun stuff that gets in the way. Time spent in a library may be less efficient but more to the point. So, we are likely net zero when it comes to which research method is more effective, and therefore, as with most things, it’s simply a matter of personal preference.