Short essays on the creative process, how the unconscious generates ideas, problem solves & how transitioning from an unconscious to a conscious state aids creativity.

Disclaimer: This is a review, and as such will contain opinions, spoilers and (often) general shit talking. (If you talk about what you don’t like about a work, you learn a lot. When you think through a work with the stakes presented to you by the creator, by the context of the work, you learn a lot. I review things, not because I love to dislike things, but because dislike contains rich and vital information for the process of experiencing something, but I cannot access it without interrogating it.) So, if you don’t want to have this thing spoiled for you, or don’t know how to behave when a person on the internet, that you don’t know, has opinions that don’t line up with yours, this review is not for you. It’s also not for the author/creator of the work. Please and thank you.

Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide by John Cleese is one of those books I recommend to every creative I come across.

John Cleese is brilliant.

Not just for his writing work, but because he has long taught creativity.

And this book is a little cup of inspiration.

It’s a wonderful and short read that will make you feel better about creative work, about employing creativity and about being a creative.

Cleese takes us through how our unconscious works, and how it shows up to aid us when we least expect it, and how it serves as a guide in our creative work.

He talks about what it means to be creative and ways in which we can all be creative.

This book isn’t just for the professional or hobby creative, this is for the creative human being.

Because Cleese talks about what we need to be creative, how we can start being creative, and how to wrangle our unruly, busy, easily distracted minds to the task of being creative.

That’s the problem with the unconscious. It… is unconscious. You can’t order it about or hit it with a stick. You have to coax it out in all sorts of strange and crafty ways. And be clever about interpreting what it does tell you.

– John Cleese, Creativity

The whole book is imbued with that classic Cleese humour and wit.

It’s a warm and encouraging read for anyone who wants to be more creative in life, love, and work.

If you want to be creative, you can’t be certain.

Because creativity is the opposite of certainty.

It’s venturing out into the unknown, unconscious depths of your mind and finding seemingly unrelated dots, and then connecting them.

You’re making something that you haven’t made before, that, perhaps, no one has ever made before.

There is no clear path marked by yeses and noes, rights and wrongs.

There is only exploration. If I do this, then what happens? What changes?

To be a creative, to be truly creative, requires you to venture out into this unknown, and embrace the uncertainty that is a part of the job.

It’s scary and confusing, yes, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

And just because I say “embracing”, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy.

Far from it.

You’ll find yourself in a constant fog of not knowing where you’re going, or even where you are.

The levels of self-doubt are astronomical and it takes a lot of energy and effort to train your mind to be creative, to hold out in that uncertainty, until the best solution arrives – rather than grab the first solution that presents itself just to end that unpleasant feeling of uncertainty.

As a professional creative, you learn to live in that uncertainty, to open yourself up to possibility. It doesn’t get any less uncomfortable with the years, but you do learn to recognise that hair-trigger reaction to run away from it.

You train your will to do things that haven’t been done before.

Everyone who is doing important work is working on something that might not work. And when things might not work, you’re acting as if. And that makes you an imposter.

– Seth Godin, Impostor syndrome

As Godin also likes to say, “it may happen, it may not happen”, meaning that anything you set out to do may or may not work out.

You just have to accept both as equally possible.

Because creativity is all about doing important work that may not work out.

And when self-doubt starts creeping in, know that it’s part of the process. You can’t create without it.

The courage to keep going.

Even when you feel like the biggest impostor on the planet.

And to pivot when needed. Because the creative process is about iterating.

You can only start at the beginning, so you make a first draft, sketch out an idea, make a prototype.

Then you get feedback and test it, and go back to iterate.

Sometimes, the end result looks nothing like the starting point.

And it takes courage to move through the changes and the uncertainty.

But it’s the uncertainty that can give you the courage to pivot — because you’re constantly evaluating your ideas based on needs and markets and target audiences.

You might work on something for years before you discover that your solution does more harm than good, or that no one really wants the thing you’ve worked so long on.

That’s the time when you need to be brave enough to look at the data and course correct. Not quit.

Step into the unknown, even when you’re the only one doing it, and try something new.

The time you spent may feel like a waste of time, but it’s not. It’s the hard work it took to discover the wrong way.

And once you know the wrong way, you’re one step closer to the right one.

You need the willingness to stay in the question long enough for the dots to connect.

Sometimes it’ll feel really hard to make decisions, and you’ll just faff around, spinning your wheels.

It’s frustrating, I know.

But that allows you to stay with your problem or question longer, when you’re not rushing to plug a leaking hole or finding a quick fix.

Take that time to research some more, go back and look it over again. Yes, again.

Give yourself the time to come up with the best possible solution.

Staying with the issue longer will allow you more time to connect those seemingly unrelated dots.

Because creativity is just that, finding meaning in (seemingly) unrelated things.

This is called apophenia, the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas).

The discomfort of not knowing what comes next, or what the answer is, is undeniable.

But, as Cleese demonstrates, that uncertainty can be leveraged into an advantage by embracing the unknown and opening yourself up to even more creative work.

If you want to read a free guide on creativity and embracing the creative process, I recommend you check this one out.

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