Ricky Gervais on Creativity

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?



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6 responses to “Ricky Gervais on Creativity

  1. shelleyhazen83

    I’m afraid I take writing very seriously. But as you said, the first draft is the time to play, and I try very hard to do that during my first brush with a new idea. If you’re not free and unencumbered – like a child – during that first draft, nothing genuine or truly original will ever come out of you.

    • Shelley,
      Thanks for your comment. You hit the nail on the head. I am a brutal editor when I go back and look at my first draft, but I am very unrestrained when writing the first draft. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Sometimes I think, as authors, that we don’t ‘play’ nearly enough. Other artistic talents/venues take play into literal form, like dancers who have that physical expression, painters who can make the colors go in wacky directions, etc. But writers are stuck with a computer or pen and ink. So I think finding ways to ‘play’ in our writing is the key to being creative, or is possibly the creativity itself. Very thought provoking!

    • Katie,
      Well said. Sometimes it can be liberating to step away from the laptop and just let your imagination run wild, or do a little “free writing.” I love Ricky Gervais’s take on creativity. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  3. Oh this is a good topic. We have to play or we’d never make anything new. We have to view the world as playing material, and drink it in in an uninhibited way.
    While I’m a staunch believer in editing and rewriting, and certainly in artistic discipline, I don’t think the play phase has to be over when we edit. I think we always have to keep a flexible mind when we’re revising our work, then we can make the best of it.
    I also love Gervais’s point about the play ‘facility’. It’s something I remember was drummed out of us at school. This particularly showed in English classes. One day, we were all told we must not choose essay questions that involved writing a story. The reason? I remember it to this day. The teacher said: ‘because no one does them well’. This caused an embolism of rebellion in my brain. How preposterous, I thought. Aren’t you meant to be nurturing our minds and souls? From that day I always chose the story question. Never did me any harm.
    Thanks for a great post, Chris – I’m off to tweet, and hopefully bring some other creative rebels your way.

    • Roz,
      Thanks for your comment. I love the way Ricky Gervais speaks about “play.” His post really captured it for me. Thanks for stopping by and sending people my way.


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