Monday, April 29, 2013

Why not apply John Cleese's model of creativity to your revisions?

Yes, we know John Cleese is awesome. This week for the first time I encountered this video he made some years ago, talking about the nature of creativity. I highly recommend you listen to it, because it's perceptive, fascinating, and also quite funny (I don't think he can do anything that isn't at all funny).

I was particularly struck by what he talked about between 7:47-10:00 of the video. He talks about creativity being an "open mode" and efficiency being a "closed mode." Each of these is valuable to us as writers, and I think that they particularly apply to the process of revision.

I typically find that revisions come in two types. The easier of the two is what I'd call edits: going through to tighten up language, make sure that there are no inconsistencies and no redundancies, etc. The second of the two is what I call revisions: taking larger problems with character or story structure and thinking about how to change them. This involves looking for a better way, a different feel, or a different opportunity.

Revisions are much harder, and are often the result of some intangible sense that the story isn't quite right. When I'm planning revisions, I can't look at my existing text. Any view of the text itself will drag me back into that fixed pattern and prevent me from having the insights I need to fix the larger problem.

I'm sure you're already seeing the parallel: edits correspond to Cleese's "closed mode," and revisions to his "open mode."

If you've never stepped back off your text, just stepped away from it, during the revision process, I highly encourage you to do so. Thinking it over in the shower, or while washing dishes, or while doing daily routines, can be helpful. So can talking your thoughts through with a writer friend. I find that stepping away from the words themselves helps me to see the story's structural pieces, the larger arcs and patterns that are the result of the words, which cannot be easily "seen" by looking at any given small stretch of text.

I hope you enjoy the video, and I hope you find these thoughts on revisions helpful to your process.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen this before, and I thought it was great. He's a very smart guy, and he gets it.