Drafting Breakthroughs

To anyone who read any draft of the play of mine up to this point, thanks but–forget it. Erase it from your memory or computer hard disk, I’ve got something new coming.

I do worry about my distorted perspective on my work. It seems dangerous, like driving blindfolded. Having such a close emotional attachment to a new scene, idea, or draft, how am I supposed to make intelligent decisions on moving forward? I’m so enamored with a piece today but I’ll disown it in six months.

But moving forward is such an exhilarating feeling: having a breakthrough in thought. Where you’ve found some missing piece that makes all of what you’re working on make more sense, everything starts to fall into place.

John Cleese describes this in a great talk on creative work. It’s not quick, so here’s a messy transcript that you may skip around at your leisure. I’m addicted to great talks on creativity. I’d love to talk to you about it all day. You, me, Julia Cameron, Elizabeth Gilbert, John Cleese, and Eric Maisel should all get together and have dinner sometime and just talk creativity. Cleese explains that the sort of thing we’d describe as a breakthrough usually comes about through unconscious work, at least partially.

You’ll daydream, of course, but you just keep bringing your mind back, just like with meditation. Because, and this is the extraordinary thing about creativity, if you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious, probably in the shower later. Or at breakfast the next morning, but suddenly you are rewarded, out of the blue a new thought mysteriously appears.

I like the idea of building trust, of working with your unconscious mind on creating these things. Norman Mailer had a kind of discipline with his routine that I really envy, and I intend to build. It comes back to trust:

Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.

That trust is something I’m still working on building. I do love to work hard, I swear. But in most sectors of my life I’ve been stubbornly undisciplined. I’ve been fighting against that again here.

But sometimes I take short strides from long focus and I get rewarded. I want to celebrate with fireworks or champagne or something explosive like that. I’d love to have some souvenir, like a real light bulb that appeared over my head. That might be a cute commemorative self-nurturing thing to do, if I were of that kind of personality. A labeled lightbulb to correspond to each hard-fought epiphany.


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