I’d like to share with you a video of a lecture, delivered by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame, among things), about the nature of creativity, and how to promote creativity in yourself. The video is pretty straightforward in presentation, punctuated with his rather dry humor (to great effect). He also says some things about people.

Through the lecture, he discusses the effects of creativity, a little bit about where it comes from, how to recognize it, and how to encourage it in both yourself and others. I’d like to touch a bit on one concept that I think rings true to me, the idea of “open” and “closed” mental states. There’s probably a better term for them, but they work.

I discovered in the early Noughties (roughly ten years ago at this point), during a writing project my brother and I shared, that I had two distinct modes for writing. In one, I was creating new material from scratch, but it tended to be rough — poorly structured and not particularly descriptive. In the other, I was very confident and analytical.

Based on my experiences, I concluded that I could either create or develop a work, but not both at the same time. In other words, I could produce a raw manuscript but not refine it, or I could hone someone else’s writing as long as I didn’t have a hand in its initial creation. It was particularly galling to me as a writer.

Once I started working however, I realized how effective my data entry skills were. I (accurately) concluded that if I created first a template for my writing (or any creative work), and then generated material, I could then tailor the written work to fit the template. In other words, edit it to meet my predefined goals. See: Rumors of War.

After about a year, I grew confident enough in my work that I didn’t feel the need to edit myself so much, and instead wrote into the template I created, rather than writing the scripts first, and then editing them down to fit the template. It led to some very interesting bits. I then tried to apply the process to novel-writing with mixed success.

I discovered my own ability to switch between the “open” and “closed” modes that Mr. Cleese talks about in the video. On the one hand, you have the creative mind that’s open to boundless forms of expression, and on the other, you have the determined mind that is focused on meeting goals. Harnessing both is a key to success.