Ricky Gervais, the comic genius who created The Office, shared some interesting thoughts on his blog about creativity. What he said was simple and powerful: creativity is the ability to play. That’s it.
“Scientific studies of creativity have basically concluded that it can’t be taught, as it is a “facility” rather than a learned skill,” Gervais wrote. “Putting it very crudely, creativity is the ability to play. And, to be able to turn that facility on and off when necessary. That makes perfect sense to me. Everything I’ve ever written, created, or discovered artistically has come out of playing.”
If you follow Ricky Gervais on Twitter, you will appreciate his boundless capacity for play. I don’t know when the guy ever sleeps. Between acting, producing, and tweeting non-stop, he is an artist constantly at play. A barrage of witty, bizarre, irreverent and at times randy tweets streams forth from him, seemingly 24/7. It is all in good fun.
In his blog piece he uses a quote Scott Adams that sums it up: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
When I read fiction writers’ blogs, there is often an undertone of frustration and angst. We all got hooked on writing fiction because it was fun. As Ricky Gervais would put it, writing is play. However, it seems these days too many writers find it is not play at all, but work.
Let’s examine the underlying reasons for the “writing as work” lament. To do this, we must break down the stages of writing a novel. The first draft most resembles play, or at least it should. I’ve heard the analogy that the first draft is when the writer lets the child come out. The writer lets her imagination run wild in the first draft. No idea is too far-fetched to include in a first draft. A writer must keep her inhibitions locked away. The second draft is when the adult takes over. The ruthless editor in each of us tells the child: no, you can’t include this; it weakens the story. This is too much telling and not enough showing. That long, rambling scene you love so much? It has to go.
The tedium gets worse as the writer goes through more rounds of revision. Those who have traditional publishers must then submit to rounds of professional editing. And then contracts and marketing schedules. No wonder it feels like all work and no play.
Ricky Gervais has the right idea, “The answer is simple,” he writes. “Never grow up. I don’t mean don’t become an adult with responsibility and the weight of the world on your shoulders. I simply mean if you’re writing or directing, give yourself enough time to play. Play the fool. Goad. Shock. Laugh. Trip over something that isn’t there. Try something. And never be afraid to fail. That failure is useful too. It’s just another building block.”
Read the full blog post here
What about you? Do you find writing is all work and no play? How do you put the play back in writing?