The black arts of creative process
These are good tools but not everything can be solved in a sprint, so I'm going to explain some of the dark arts of the creative process, as told through authors, artists, jokers and gonzos.
1. Self-induced hypnosis
When writing novels, Chuck Pahalhniuk (Fight Club, Choke), applies a technique that Andy Warhol first cited in the 1960s, 'I use a single piece of music to re-create the same mood each time I go back to a project. By listening to it, again and again, I quit hearing the words and almost hypnotise myself into a fictional world'.
Scientifically, music works on a biochemical level with dopamine levels in your brain, it’s a hardwired way of forcing people into an emotional state, movie makers and advertisers have been leveraging the power for years.
As a project begins to grind, getting your head back into that exciting creative place it started in isn’t easy, but if you have a trigger, it’s like a shortcut straight to the spark. But be warned, pick carefully, because you really won't want to listen to that music again once the project is over.
2. Start at the end
Setting limits seems like the opposite of what a limitless, all-or-nothing creative would want to do, but Brian Eno (Roxy Music) has proven that it really works. Before starting a track, Eno defines something like, 'This piece is going to be 3m 19s and there’s going to be a very fast rhythm here with a very slow moving part over the top of it'.
This isn’t limiting what’s possible, but it is limiting the potential entry points, after all it’s the overwhelming starting point that is the biggest hurdle to anyone creating. A dozen of my personal projects lay along the wayside for this very reason - just make some basic decisions and get on with it, before you know, it’ll be 2am and you won’t want to stop.
3. Do not delete
The artist responsible for the visual attitude of Gonzo journalism, Ralph Steadman just takes it all in his stride. Steadman, who rode along with Hunter S. Thompson, knows how to deal with mistakes, 'Start directly in ink or something that makes a mark that you cannot rub out, of course you make mistakes! But there’s no such thing as a mistake really. Just an opportunity to do something else.'
It's natural to make mistakes, but it is unnatural to erase, remove and undo anything that isn’t 100% perfect. So many ideas are wiped out of the creative process early on. Keep the nonsense, mistakes and inappropriate sketches, because these have the potential to throw up that happy accident.
4. Have a nap
The only man who can put chips up Michael Palin's nose and get away with it, John Cleese, spent time on tropical islands with Graham Chapman writing sketches about slapping people with fish. In a talk about his creative process, Cleese admitted that he'd misplaced work along the way, 'I was embarrassed that I lost our work, so I rewrote it from memory, straight off in a hurry. Then I discovered the original and the one I’d done very quickly was better than the original. I didn’t spend any time thinking about it, so how could it be better than the original?'
Not everything is instantly filed and ordered chronologically in the brain, it’s a huge mess of information that our subconscious is left to sort out. You need to trust your subconscious to make decisions, just sleeping on it will give your brain time to digest ideas. Ever noticed a creative “eureka” moment when having your morning shower?
5. Cut it up
'When you cut into the present the future leaks out', author William S. Burroughs used the Dadaist technique of cutting up lines of text and then randomly putting these together to create a new piece. This idea has been tried by subsequent generations, with David Bowie, and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) both applying it to albums that have sold in the millions.
Wiping an idea off the face of the earth never made it better. If you have something, hold onto it, it might not be right at the moment but find the good parts and see if they fit together in a different way. These could randomly form another idea but the likelihood is that it will create a fork to bounce off into another route with the core thought intact.
Five in a million
It’s not about defining who’s an author and who’s a surrealist, because all of these people are known for being a number of these things and more. There’s one connecting tissue which joins them all at the hip, which is understanding their own creativity and knowing how to channel this through addiction, madness, and loss. There are a million ways of approaching things, be it a whiteboard or the darkest corner of your soul, whichever way you go, as creatives we should enjoy the freedom to explore.
 http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/karolina/2013/05/22/brian-eno-why-setting-l... - Eric Tamm’s Brian Eno e-book.