Growing up in England in the 70s Monty Pythons Flying Circus was a Sunday night staple, it was the cool place to be. John Cleese, arguably the most recognized of the Monty Python comedy group, has gone on to be a respected comedic actor and writer.
The popular image of writers and artists as tortured souls, waking at 3am to scribble or paint furiously for hours, only to be hit with writer’s block, and unable to create for days, appears to be the exception rather than the rule. John Cleese has studied the creative process and shared his findings in an excellent presentation, the transcript can be viewed here
The primary finding is
So what does this all have to do with you and me, and our creative process. Well come to find out, if creativity is a way of operating, we can choose to set up the ideal circumstances for that mode of operation. Cleese has suggestions to start the creative process. He recommends that we set boundaries of space and time so we avoid interruptions; that we have a start and finish time, separate from the activities of our ordinary life and make this time manageable. Cleese suggests 90 minute creativity segments; he feels that it is better to set the 90 minutes aside once a day for 5 days, rather than to commit four and a half hour marathon session, all at one time.
I recently started using a content creation calendar, and have found it incredibly helpful to organize my ideas, plan my days.
If I don’t have time scheduled for writing, then days turn to weeks, and I am no further ahead. Having the administrative aspects taken care of, with a general idea of what you want to accomplish in the allotted time, is very valuable.
Here are some steps you can take to get the creativity flowing.
Allow yourself some pondering time
I typically get my best ideas at odd times, when I am not thinking about anything in particular, like just before I fall asleep, or during morning meditation, when I’m cycling, or even in the shower. The subconscious mind takes over, and ruminates – thoughts pop into my head. Give yourself time to think, figure out when your most pensive time is. It may be at different times of the day doing different activities such as, when exercising, just before you fall asleep, walking the dog, doing the dishes (you may want to scratch the last one). Important tip – write ideas down immediately, with a rough outline if possible, don’t try to edit, just write – I have found if I don’t write it down within 5 minutes, the thought is gone, often not to be retrieved.
Get a quiet space, turn off all distractions, email, social media & phone
Cleese says “resist the urge to do trivial things that are urgent (like email), and do the important things that are not urgent – like thinking”. I log out of all my social media sites, turn off email and silence my phone because interruptions are fatal to the creative process, it can take a long time to pick up your train of thought once broken. Put on some music that won’t distract you. I used to think that music interfered with my ability to concentrate, but I have found that the right kind of music actually has the opposite effect. I have been using “FocusatWill” – the music is largely unfamiliar, so my mind doesn’t get hooked by a tune – (imagine spa music). This came as a recommendation from Michael Hyatt who is a prolific writer, a great mentor and teacher and well worth checking out.
Set aside a specific amount of time.
I like to commit 1.5 hours at a time when writing my blog, I use the first 20 minutes for pondering and getting the writing process going, then about 1 hour for writing, without stopping. There is plenty of time for editing later, it is important to keep writing without interruption to maintain the creative flow. Too little or too much time deadens the creative process. Studies have shown that we have to be willing to play with an idea, without pressure to come up with an immediate solution. Too much time is not good either, having a deadline that you are working towards, can help the process. This is why I started using a posting calendar, to create some structure and a deadline.
Have confidence in your Creativity.
Know that given the right environment we are all creative. You have a message to share, and there is an audience out there waiting to hear from you. Have patience with yourself, and know that the writing will flow.
Use your sense of Humor
We couldn’t talk about John Cleese without mentioning humor, and he makes an important point, use humor to open your mind, laughter relaxes and makes us more open to ideas. Decisions made under pressure and stress are usually not the best. Bringing humor to the creative process gives us permission to relax and play with thoughts and ideas.
These steps will help you schedule your time, enhance your creativity and use deadlines to your advantage. Give your creative mind the time and space and structure that it needs to run wild.
What aspect of the creative process do you most enjoy? what is your greatest challenge? I would love to hear your thoughts. If you found this valuable, please do share on Linked In, FaceBook, Twitter and Pinterest.