The ‘Chicken and the Egg’ Guide for Creatives?

It is a common catchphrase – which came first, the chicken or the egg? – which appears to have a simple answer, either way, until you come to justify it.

Apparently, it was Plutarch which first posed the question in the 1st Century AD, addressing the problems of origin and first cause. Aristotle, writing four centturies earlier wouldn’t even have considered the question as he believed there was no true origin.

By the close of the Sixteenth Century the Christian world didn’t even consider the dilema as God made, or created, everything. By the Twentieth Century Evolutionary Biologists decided the answer had to be the ‘Egg’ as they calculated that the first hard shelled egg – not laid in water – couldn’t have happened until about 312 Million years ago.

So what has 2000-312,000,000 year old debate have to do with creativity?

To answer the much more pressing question of whether I am procrastinating or not!

If the egg = researching for searching for the creative impulse and chicken = actually doing the creative thing, then you are looking at the problem as I am.

I am new to art and, although I have always loved looking at art and watched lots of documentaries on art movements and artists, I am acutely aware of the lack of reference points and natural triggers I possess when I come to do the creative action.

So I research. A lot.

The it struck me, this morning as I glanced at my still empty sketchbook pages for the day, that most of the time I had for the action of creativity was in fact being taken up by the research to obtain the creative triggers, to then be creative.

So which comes first?

Creative Action?

Or Creative Thought?

Ironically, as a writer I would definitely tick the box of Creative Action. I usually start with the thinnest sliver of a starting point – maybe a few words or a person walking or entering a building – then I write. As I write the Creative Thought occurs and I get the next scene or chapter developing in my head.

As an artist the process is definitely the reverse.

Perhaps it is because there are more elements to taking action? What type of surface, what type of meduim, brushes or palette knives, sketch an outline or simply apply the paint?

In general though, how does your creativity arrive?

If you are a person of faith, or an evolutionary biologist, then you maybe decisively fall on one side or the other of the debate. Or perhaps you give the answer of certitude ‘well, it depends . . . ‘

I appear to have a foot in both camps.

My faith make me certain that the chicken came first, and if it turns out the egg was created before the chicken, then the whole creation thing happened anyway, so the principle is still proven.

I beleive that creativity comes from the Creator.

So my creative thinking process is, as I have begun to suspect, an elaborate means of procrastination.

But taking time to think and research has definitely furnished me with many creative ideas and actions!

However, if I fill in the time sheet of thought versus action, then the beginning of the Bible would go like this:

In the beginning, God took five and a half days to do research then realised it was almost the Day of Rest, so he decided to do a final bit of research and then wrote in his planner to definitely create something first thing on Sunday!

(Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath – just in case you were wondering.)

So, maybe you are like me and you are certain you’re pretty sure you know which comes first?!

Then again both options are creative, so what does it matter?

Or maybe this brings us onto another age old debate?

If a tree falls in a wood with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Or, are you only being creative if there is an end product to prove it?

Go and be creatively thoughtful or creatively creative, and I will join you.

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 438 – To TV or Not To TV, That Is The Question.

One piece of writing advice is to destroy your tv.

You’re a writer of books, so read ’em and write ’em.

TV was invented to distract you and allow advertising to sell you stuff.

So that should be enough for why not to TV.

So Why to TV?

Plot and Characters in a story arc.

Most tv series don’t give you much more, other than a great source of material for building ‘cliffhangers’ into your chapter endings.

Watch how each episode is finished. How does it wrap the events of that episode but how does it inform on what went on in previous episode plots or signal something yet to come.

What character relationships are there and how do they develop?

Not everything needs to make sense. A lot of TV shows don’t even try to explain shifts in scenes or seemingly impossible plot points – they just know you want a conclusion to that episodes situation and to see how the relationships between the key characters is furthered.

Perhaps you don’t need to fret over all of those details which were giving you sleepless nights after all.

Day 407 – Write Where You Are.

There are two points here.

The first is, literally, write where you are.

You don’t need a magic desk, or a sea view, or the sound of migrating Elk – to be honest I don’t even know if Elk migrate, but you get the point I’m sure.

Write in a notebook, write on your phone, write on your arm.

Keep your brain on its creative channel and don’t switch over to see what is on the other side.

I’m still learning this lesson.

The second point is, write where you are. Write from your thoughts, your experiences, the voices of the characters standing next to you.

Sometimes the people reading you will love it. Sometimes they won’t.

It’s like your favourite band. You don’t like every album they’ve ever made. Well not the same anyway.

You have preferred albums. This one blew your mind. That one made you wonder is a cover band made it because the original band members were still drinking cocktails in Tahiti.

They were writing where they were.

That’s all they could do. They could only write what was there with them at that moment in time.

That is all you can do too.

Some people will think it is your best work ever. Others will wonder if you are still in Tahiti.

So write where you are. (Which might actually be Tahiti!)

Day 404 – Understand This.

Books and Vinyl Records.

The covers, the textures, the background noise.

E-books and digital downloads – somehow books seemed to have managed to miss out the equivalent stages of the CD and MiniDisc.

The future is . . .

. . . Books and Vinyl are making a comeback.

But there is a difference now.

The audiences are expecting something different.

They don’t consume in the way they did before.

Perhaps what is drawing music listeners back to vinyl is the art work of the album covers, the liner notes, the lyrics, the thank yous from the band. The things you don’t get is the same way when you stream or download.

For writers the landscape is somewhat different.

In his article on Medium, ‘The 3 Biggest Trends in Publishing Right Now‘ (June ’18), Steven Spatz writes:

What authors need to understand is this: you’re no longer just competing against other authors and books in the digital space. You’re also competing with TV, social media, games, movies, and more.

Writers are competing for the attention of readers who consume stories in different ways to before.

TV tends to be a character driven narrative over a number of episodes with discernible cliffhangers at the end of each one.

Film provides for 90-120 minutes of attention in one sitting – if there is popcorn.

Games focus on first-person action where you become the main character.

Social Media allows you to comment and influence your friends in bite-size chunks.

When your novel reaches 12 hours on audio-book and your 3rd Person narrative weaves an intricate web of symbolism throughout multiple chapters, you might not get many comments.

There is a market for the above, as I’m sure some people still proudly listen to their minidiscs, but to carve out a career as a writer you might need to pay closer attention to how and what your potential readers consume.

1st Person, quick-paced, climax to every chapter, in a story which keeps you guessing and motivated to chase the story to the end, might be one place to start. I’m sure this will work in every genre.

One hundred-ish page books, where a story is told over several volumes, might be another good place.

After all, Charles Dickens published some of his novels as chapters in his weekly magazine Household Words.

And we are back to vinyl again . . .

Consume v. Create.

Consume or Create?

Easy choice, right?

If I put this up on Twitter as a poll, I’d expect to see 98% for Create – there’s always a couple of people who have to vote the other way out of creative difference or just to be annoying.

But I would guess that if I got you to fill out a time sheet, the split would be more 70/30 in favour of Consume (okay – 80/20 – and I’m still being generous!).

A bit of tv, or an online streaming platform, whilst we eat our evening meals, even if it we saw it more as ‘research’. Reading a book before bed in order to relax and unwind, as well as scope out the competition. A healthy dose of online images for the artists and photographers, or listening to the latest songs and performers for the musicians.

In some ways, consuming is easier to do and easier to justify to ourselves as research and learning. It is easier because we spend more time doing it. Physically easier and mentally easier.

To improve, to attain our goals, to really satisfy the creative we want ourselves to be, we need to start exercising those creative muscles. And we need to stop exercising those consuming muscles. It will be uncomfortable at first. We have habits to break and new muscles to develop.

Start easing back with one and increasing the other.

Start dropping some of your ‘research’ into the background. Pull up that Amazon detective show on your iPad whilst you prepare your meal. Listen to the audiobook on your drive to work, or whilst your shopping. Flip through those images whilst you make your coffee or smoothie.

Start using more core time for creation. Write or sketch in your journal. Get some deliberate practice in with your use of shape or colour, or practice those scales and chords. Plan and schedule time to work on that next chapter or record the rhythm section of a song.

Create. Develop and strengthen your style.

Shipping what you produce is always easier when you have produce to ship.

Consume v. Create.