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The Creative Process by John Cleese

December 9, 2008

Comic genius John Cleese sat down for an interview a few years ago and had a lot to say about creativity and the creative process. I keep coming back to this passage, where he discusses the importance of whim…

I knew a wonderful teacher once—a tutor. He tutored my stepsons and my elder daughter. He said to me, “Always start where the energy is.”
People make an awful mistake by starting where the energy isn’t. If you’re feeling very world-weary—and sometimes we’re all in that boat—you have to sit down with something that’s going to engage you. That doesn’t mean you just switch on the TV and watch a cartoon, but it does mean asking, What would be fun? Maybe take a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing silly things. Go for a walk. Just sit very quietly watching your breathing. Anything. Just allow the whim to get you going.
Now, you can’t do this all of the time; it’s too disconnected. But I think in that particular frame of mind, when you run out of energy and motivation, I think you have to go right down to the instinct, right down to a whim.
I’m coming up on 60, and I’m wondering where my life will begin to go. I need to take a slightly different direction. I talked to a very wise man, and he said, “If you’re trying to find a new direction, don’t plan it, because this [pointing to his head] has been planning your life up to now. You can’t plan something new with the same old apparatus.” He said, “Leave a gap. Leave a space, and just do things on auto for a while. Just see where these whims take you.”
It’s like creativity. You have to follow it without knowing where you’re going. If you try to control where you’re going, you’re back in the same process. It’s like asking a piece of machinery that’s broken to mend itself.

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