About his creative inspiration, Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett once said “Babies don’t come from babies.” He meant that the greatest music doesn’t come from studying other great music. He is no longer influenced by predecessors or contemporaries. Instead, he reads. And he ‘listens’. “My main job is listening. If you’re improvising and you’re not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.” In this way, Jarrett’s inspiration is transformative. He turns emotions into music. Not music into music.
Don’t conclude from this that study and technical skills are irrelevant. Like all great performers, Jarrett spent well over the proverbial 10,000 hours of live practice, playing with others and emulating his early idols. What he is saying, is that the greatest ideas don’t come from copying, or even listening to others.
Why do I harp on about my favourite pianist? Because he has something to say about creative inspiration.
A few years back, every film student wanted to be Tarantino. PULP FICTION was the norm for creative inspiration. Some went a step further, and wanted to be Guy Ritchie to do the next LOCK STOCK. Creative inspiration? No. Derivation – to the second degree.
You feel compelled to emulate or remake a movie? Do realise that most successful ripoffs or pastiches come from filmmakers with a strong voice. They recreate an existing work into something with a distinctive, new flavour.
Ask yourself: are you ready for this yet?
Perhaps you should look elsewhere for your creative inspiration.
I Hate Presentations
When I had to present to corporate high-flyers, I read a book that was pitched towards the same audience. I didn’t end up learning how to make a killer presentation. Instead, I learned something far more valuable to me: “How to deliver a kickass script pitch.”
This book about corporate presentations had so much more to say about pitching than any book on selling scripts. Think about it, every day hundreds of thousands of corporate execs perform high-stakes presentations. Inevitably, we’re going to learn from them.
As creatives, we rarely look far enough for our stories, for the answers to our questions. We are happy with the visible horizon. To come up with the best stories, you’ll have to travel outside your comfort zone, beyond that familiar horizon.
So Where To Go?
The equivalent of Jarrett’s listening is observation.
Check out this TED talk by Tim Brown for a few ideas on how to solve problems, and access your creative inspiration.
Remember you’re not a director or cinematographer. You’re not chasing the greatest shot. You’re a writer. You search for emotion.
Emotion is everywhere. But as humans, we are totally skilled in suppressing them. Rarely will you find the Big Dramas played out in public. However, the body language, the subtext will still be there.
A huge source of creative inspiration lies within yourself. Feel your feelings, explore your memories, your fears and hopes. Ask questions. Why are they there? What happened?
You’ll be surprised with the wealth of material that’s residing right between your ears. But you’ll have to keep digging… You may have suppressed the strongest emotions.
Creative Inspiration Killed
Our brain has indeed that uncanny ability to quell strong emotions. We have all experienced moments of ecstasy on the one hand – and deep depression on the other. But we may forget about it…
Read Dan Gilbert, or watch this Ted talk. He explains how a quadriplegic and a lotto winner ended up equally happy, only months after the change in their fortune.
Deep down in our subconscious lies a sheer limitless mine of emotional memories. It’s right there, ready to be turned into story gold. Up to you to do the work. Find ways to bring these memories to the surface. (Along the way, this work may also miraculously dissolve that mysterious ailment that’s been bugging you)
Of course you can go and find creative inspiration outside yourself, true or fictional. Explore history and literature, and see if you can update any of the great tales of our civilisation.
Summarised, you’ll find stories outside, and inside. You can look for them in the past, present or future.
Here’s a little overview:
Enjoy the exploration, and tell us in the comments where you find the best results for your creative inspiration.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.