I get the opportunity to drive quite a lot and to help fill my time, I listen to podcast. Most recently I had the pleasure of listening to Tim Ferriss interview Daniel H Pink for the Tim Ferris podcast. As always with a Tim Ferris podcast there was no shortage of learnings to absorb from over 2 hours of conversation between them.
I am also just reading the excellent Creativity, Inc. book by Ed Cutmull in which Ed writes about the challenges of managing the creative output from the team at Pixar.
What struck me was the similarities in the approach that both applied to the creative process which are as follows: firstly here is the creative process used by Daniel.
The biggest challenge any writer faces is coming up with an idea that can become a story, an article, a book and even a film.
Listening to Daniel and Tim, what was clear is that their starting point comes from reading and making note of articles or chapters within books that capture their interest. These articles are collated into categories or themes over time.
From a practical point of view you may decide to print and file these articles into folders that can be easily picked up and re-read, or you may decide to use an online tool like One note.
Depending upon whether you are writing a book or an article you should review these categories over a period from weekly through to six monthly checking to see which ones grab your attention.
Ideas that form articles or books are driven by your desire or curiosity to want to learn more.
Building the idea bank
The creation of an idea bank and recognizing the process that sites behind is potentially a massive help to overcome the biggest challenge any writer faces.
The critical part is to understand that you are using inquisitiveness firstly to observe and digest an article that is of interest to you, and that secondly it gives you the motivation to want to learn more about what you have read. It is these two factors that should create the momentum to get you writing.
So to recap the creative process is:
- Read articles, books
- Record the article and categorize
- Review the categories and observe whether you are prompted to what to find out more.
Two Steps to Validation
Step 1: Outside validation
Validation comes from those that you trust to be honest with you. These people could be mentors, trusted experts in their field or colleagues or close friends. You need to get feedback from a number of them as well, not just one or two.
At this stage it is time for you to present your ‘idea’ for a book or article to your collective and be prepared for feedback, both good and bad. Those with in your collective should be able to give you constructive reasons why they feel the idea is good and bad.
Step 2: Sometimes you have to Write to figure it out
So your collective gives you the okay that the like the idea, and at this stage you already do to a point. But now you have to take the steps to start to make that idea a reality.
Writing a book/ article proposal pushes you to write a ‘business plan’ about the book or article you are writing. As you start to write this proposal as Daniel says you will write to figure it out. The proposal will need to answer the following questions.
- A summary of the book
- What is the article trying to explain/achieve
- Who won’t read this article
Depending upon whether you are writing a book or an article will depend how much you put into this. But as a guide you the proposal will equate to 10% of what you end up writing.
The longer the article, the more the proposal should detail.
The summary is your executive summary/ overview of the book/article. My advise is to write it last, because writing to figure it out is essentially all about what you are trying to achieve by writing this.
You will lay out a view of what you have learnt so far and then how this has fed your curiosity relating to some of the questions you aim to answer or have answered in your research.
Another important aspect is to consider who won’t read this. This question is about identifying your audience. It’s an easy line to say everyone, but it’s not true. Understanding who won’t read this will help write for those that will.
Now go write!
Once you have completed your proposal you should have the feedback from your collective and you have taken some time to write to figure it out. With validation in place its time to get writing.
As you proceed with writing, a common practice is get a trusted friend to read back to you what you have written. This enables you to hear how the text flows and also the right context is picked up. How you read a word or sentence can be very different, so this is an beneficial process to use.
Pixar’s Creative Process
In the Pixar world, the creative process is driven by the director and his or her story writing team. One of the challenges with producing an animated film is that until you see the story unfolding in front of you, its very difficult to know how it will flow and whether it works.
To validate the story, Pixar hold a regular film review group called the Braintrust.
The Braintrust is a group of 6 or 7 people from the senior management team, other directors that sit outside of the team that are making the film. They meet with the film’s creation team and watch the latest draft of the film.
At the end of the viewing, the braintrust offers constructive feedback to the director and his team.
This feedback loop is a critical part of the process and it allows for an open forum of discussion and ideas about what is working and what isn’t. This can take considerable time but it optimizes the creative talents of those with the experience with those that are writing and producing the film.
With film’s like UP, the original story changed many times over time. But looking back it was clear to all that the evolution of the story would not have happened without the braintrust process.
This is what really struck me when listening to the podcast and reading the book by Ed Catmull was that the creative process is at it’s best when creation involves inquisitiveness and collaboration.
Inquisitiveness is a desire to learn, to want to understand more and that comes from the individual within the idea building process and within the Braintrust group at the film review stage.
Collaboration comes with the involvement of others, the collectives of trusted associates, friends and colleagues which, when you think about it are the same elements that make up the Braintrust group.
In it’s simplest form, its a feedback loop that inspires progressive development of creative process.
I hope you found this useful. How does your creative process work? What do you do differently? Please feel free to share via the comments page.