In almost every Neil Gaiman interview I’ve seen or heard he is inevitably asked the question all creative types despise. Where do you get your ideas from? At least Gaiman has a sense of humour. In the past he has answered this by saying, ‘From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,’ or ‘From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis.’ Nowadays he keeps it simple: ‘I make them up. Out of my head.’

Because the truth is no one knows where ideas come from. I once heard a poet say his best poems fizzed past on a runaway train and if he didn’t grab them with both hands, at that very second, they would be gone forever, never to return.

I always loved the way John Cleese and Michael Palin used to write. They knew ideas don’t arrive fully formed. It takes work to find them. The stars of Monty Python would sit in a cabin in the woods and talk absolute shite, sometimes for hours, before the bare-boned idea for a sketch popped out. They’d worked out the magic ingredient. Riff and talk and riff and talk and risk.

Sometimes you’re lucky. Sometimes, for whatever reason, ideas do just arrive. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. How many times have we scribbled down an idea at two in the morning and woken too embarrassed to even read it aloud to the dog.

The master of surrealism Salvador Dali pushed the limits of creativity, almost forcing his brain to dance on the spot. He used to slouch in his chair and in his right hand he held a key. Beneath his hand was an upside-down plate. The second he fell into a deep sleep, his hand released the key which clanged onto the plate, at which time he awoke to a fresh pallet of ideas. Which is cheaper than drugs.

Feel free to share what works for you in comments. I’ll think about what’s worked for me and post some more ideas next time.

Over and out.


Who could ignore John Cleese’s genius?

A Fish Called Wanda. Fawlty Towers. The Ministry of Silly Walks.

But what makes the man tick – and how did he arrive at such lunacy?

Firstly, he has rules – particularly if you’re in a group – when coming up with ideas. Here are a few:

In order to create the right environment for creativity you must avoid people conflict and personality conflict. Personality clashes stand in the way of ideas generation. (Get rid of the nay-sayers.)

Avoid those that hijack the creative process through either a passion for their own ideas or due to people conflict within the group. (Just because they’re loudest doesn’t mean their idea is strongest.)

Stimulating physical surroundings will add to creativity and a boring environment will do the opposite. (Get out of the goddamn office! Quit staring at the walls. Go for walk. Some of the best ideas arrive in the shower, though I realise that’s not always considered a group activity.)

You need at least an hour to generate an idea. It takes 20 mins to slow your mind down from feeling time pressured and task orientated. (I read that Cleese and Palin used to escape to a log cabin in the woods to write. For the first hour they spoke complete rubbish: how’s your family; still got tennis elbow; oh, look, a dead cockroach. Only after this ‘download’ were they ready to think, construct and write.)

You’ll get better ideas from people who are relaxed and ready to think about ideas. Allow new thoughts in.

It’s important that creative people are given real deadlines not fake deadlines. Creative people need pressure off to generate ideas.

Most ideal number for a productive creative group is no more than 8.

(Good luck in the shower. Don’t forget the notepad.)