John Cleese on the “How” of creativity.

I am a huge fan of Mr. John Cleese. Yes, I was one of those irritating teenagers who could repeat the Argument Sketch (A brilliant Monty Python bit) ad nasuem.

I love Cleese’s work. Its funny, absurd and wickedly smart. A few years ago he did a talk on creativity. He talked about what creative people have to do to have an effective process. The “How” of creativity if you will. Most people don’t really believe that the HOW of creativity exists. They think that we (those who create) just blunder about until some great (or not great) idea falls from the firmament and then we write it, sculpt it, draw it, or deliver it in whatever discipline we choose. Cleese doesn’t agree with that. He feels we need SPACE to create. Here’s the video here…

He believes (as does another hero of mine, some unkown named “Stephen King”) that inspiration does show up but that it will show up much more often if we are present, ready and waiting for it. We have to keep our appointment with creativity in order for things to happen. Like a lot of appointments though, sometimes we have to wait for the other party to show up. Sometimes we have to twiddle our thumbs and wait.

I honestly think that most people can’t handle the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next. Sometimes when we are making something we have to sit there for long periods of time waiting for something to happen. OK maybe its not that long, but it FEELS like a long time.

I have done some creative work in my time. A couple of books, a bunch of live comedy, a CD with a very good friend of mine, and in the process of ALL of them there was some time spent just wondering what the heck to do next, but if we stick with it and stay in that uncomfortable space for a while, an idea will magically bubble up from somewhere. Call it the collective unconscious, call it the depths of your psyche, call it Harold, but whatever you call it, something, some idea or inspiration will arrive.

Keith Richards, another remarkable artist who I have a tremendous amount of respect for was asked how he writes. He said “You don’t really write, you transmit.” When we are writing, improvising or whatever, we sometimes lose yourself in the process and feel a kind of beautiful “Lift Off”. The thing we are working on creates itself in an almost effortless fashion. That is a wonderful feeling, but we have to force ourselves to show up and do our art in order for that to happen. So what’s the big deal here? I think that as creative folks we have to embrace what most people do not. We have to come to terms with not knowing how its going to turn out. We have to hang out in the “uncomfortableness” of being unfinished and trust that somewhere out there or somewhere in here, there is an answer and it will arrive.

If we keep showing up, it will.