Yesterday in Minna, I gave a talk on the “creative process” to graduating students of English and Literature at the College of Education Minna.
Here’s the summary of the talk in 800 words.
In this talk:
– How to get inspiration to do great work every day of your life – 365 days!
– ”The father” of English literature and 3 simple tools he employed and which can make you a fun writer to read.
– What science says about walking and creativity and how it can help you to solve even the knotty problems.
– One book with inexhaustible ideas for fun poetry
– The secret of Winston Churchill
There are four things I’ve learned about the creative process. Here they are.
Creativity equals production. The more you produce the more creative ideas you have to produce more. If you’re a writer, you must sit down and write! It’s in the process of writing that you achieve creativity. If you write one article, that gives you the ideas to write three more. If you write one book, you get ideas to write three more. Artists must produce. Scientists must produce. Because products are the launch pads for more products. Winston Churchill wrote more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined before he became prime minister. He bombarded his own party for 10 years through his writings. At a point, Chamberlain, the prime minister before him, said “he is the only person in our party trusted by the opposition.”
Churchill continued to produce words until he achieved what he always wanted. When the king summoned him so that he would be appointed the prime minister and his wife noticed some anxiety, ”you are shaking, ” she said.
She asked, ”isn’t this what you have always wanted?”
Churchill confessed that indeed he had wanted to be a prime minister since he was “in the nursery.”
It didn’t matter that he was hated by everyone including his colleagues, the king and Hitler. Churchill wrote drafts upon drafts. He wasn’t by all means perfect. ”You are wise because you are flawed,” the wife told him.
Also, it wasn’t because he was the best strategist. He was actually responsible for some battles Britain lost before he was prime minister.
What stood him apart was his stubbornness to communicate his ideas. And he did that by dictating his words to an assistant whether in bed, the office or the toilet. Over and over and over again.
At a point, while he was doing his business in the toilet, a female assistant was outside writing what he was dictating. When he was done, he warned her that he was coming out – naked!
That was how urgently he felt he needed to communicate with his compatriots.
So don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
Those who wait for inspiration before writing or producing any meaningful products are the hungry writers or those who never achieve their goals. Writing one or two books is not enough. Artistic work is a game of numbers. You don’t know which one will be a bestseller – and call attention to other works you have produced.
As a writer, what works best for me is to set the timer on my phone to five minutes. But before then, I list my points.
Then I dedicate five minutes to each point. I write furiously and don’t stop to edit. Once the alarm sounds, I move on to the next point until I’ve attended to each point. If I write 200 words every five minutes, a column of 1,000 words would take about 30 minutes to write. The rest is editing. To have a draft- no matter how rough – is better than a blank page. To boot, it’s better than agonizing after every word before you even complete a paragraph.
Nothing is original. And everything is a remix. Repeat that with me: ”Everything is a remix!”
Therefore, as a creative person, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Just put a spin on what already exists. Creativity is when the familiar meets novelty.
Many works of art are a remix of what came before. “Magana Jari Ce” is an adaptation of “Arabian Nights” but it’s a Hausa classic today.
In fact, if you introduce something completely unfamiliar, it’s likely to tank.
Humans are conditioned to love the familiar. Sometimes the adaptation is from like to like or from one medium to another e.g. “Game of Thrones” books to the ”Game of Thrones” TV series.
Sometimes from one genre to another, such as a poem into a play. Once you realise this, a huge burden would be lifted from your shoulders. However, don’t plagiarize!
TAKE A WALK! Science has shown that those who walk, generate better and more ideas than those who didn’t. So before you begin a project or when you are stuck (e.g. writer’s block), take a morning or evening work. Walk to school or office or church or mosque if you can. In graduate school, whenever I got stuck, I went for a walk and it helped.
BE READY for inspiration. In number 1 above, I said inspiration comes from production i.e., from doing. But you can get inspiration, a hunch or intuition from other places too – from the books we read, movies we watch, something a mad man says or from the good old conversation.
Personally, I like to write poetry that people enjoy. Not something that will challenge their understanding. In doing that I use three tools which great writers, such as Shakespeare and Geofery Chaucer (considered the father of English literature) employed in their work.
They are called the 3 Rs: Repetition, Rhyme and Rhythm.
The Qur’an is laden with great examples and variations of these, so I take inspiration for my poetry from the Qur’an.
There are many things that can aid your creative process. However, I find the four points above very useful. Therefore, don’t wait for inspiration, but instead sit down every 9AM – or whatever time – to work. And remember that everything is a remix. Also, experiments have shown that walking helps us to be creative. Lastly, be open to receive inspiration from anyone, anywhere and anything at anytime.