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Creativity, A Short and Cheerful Guide

“Anyone can be creative!”

John Cleese Creativity a short and cheerful guide -- cartoon of cleese with selfie stick and two lemurs on cover

This happy idea is the central thesis of John Cleese’s pithy treatise on how to be creative. The book really is for everyone, not just artists of various stripes. Cleese has some great tips on how to be more creative – or realistically, how to set up the circumstances to be more creative.

Cleese, as you no doubt know, is most famous for his work with Monty Python and his iconic character of Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers). He’s spent much of his life writing, and so he has had to learn how to be creative. I found this quite an enjoyable read, and I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t raucously funny. In fact, it’s meant to be a serious look at how to get your creative juices flowing. (Though he does have the occasional turn of phrase that made me laugh.)

Creativity: psychological underpinnings

I was pleased to learn some of the psychological underpinnings of how creativity works. He takes this science and then turns it into quick and actionable advice. For example, to be creative, we need three things:

  • A safe place to play
  • Boundaries of space
  • Boundaries of time

I can testify that this is absolutely true, and I was thinking about this just the other day.

A safe place for your creativity

During the summer, I like to draft new novels in my garden in the mornings. (See pic above.)  The time is devoted to that pursuit – the first draft. This is meant to be a safe, and playful, activity. I don’t let my conscious brain do too much work then. I just want the time to be for fun, to discover what the story is going to be.

Because it’s in the garden, my wifi doesn’t really let me get on the internet. This means I’m not distracted. So, unless I’m interrupted by local wildlife (I have a rabbit that likes to drop by while I’m at the keyboard), the time and space is my own.

And it really works. I can bang out a chapter, some days even two, while I’m in this special zone.

If you’re a writer, then you’ll find some of his advice at the end of the book is really helpful as well, though much of it works for any creative activity.

A note to Mr. Cleese

In the extremely unlikely event that you are reading this, Mr. Cleese, I will answer the question you pose at the end of the audiobook: the reason I purchased your book in audio format is not because I am incapable of reading. I got the audio version because I know I’m going to hear your voice in my head as I read anyway, so I might as well actually hear your voice while I “read.”


My latest creative effort, Alpha Max, was written in that garden!


cover art of The Fridgularity and Marvellous Hairy, both by Mark A. Rayner

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