Writing and the Creative Life: 4 Tips On Creativity From The Creator Of Calvin & Hobbes

I saw this article in Fast Company a while back and in reading it, I realized how important comic strips have been in my adult life. Doonesbury. The Far Side. Bloom County. And, of course, Calvin & Hobbes.

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Calvin & Hobbes was created by Bill Watterson. And in the documentary Stripped, which came out in 2014, the famously “media averse” cartoonist, provided 4 tips on creativity:

1. You Have To Lose Yourself In Your Work
“My comic strip was the way that I explored the world and my own perceptions and thoughts. So to switch off the job I would have had to switch off my head. So, yes, the work was insanely intense, but that was the whole point of doing it.”

2. Create For Yourself
“Quite honestly I tried to forget that there was an audience. I wanted to keep the strip feeling small and intimate as I did it, so my goal was just to make my wife laugh. After that, I’d put it out, and the public can take it or leave it.”

3. Make It Beautiful
“My advice has always been to draw cartoons for the love of it, and concentrate on the quality and be true to yourself. Also try to remember that people have better things to do than read your work. So for heaven’s sake, try to entice them with some beauty and fun.”

4. Every Medium Has Power
“A comic strip takes just a few seconds to read, but over the years, it creates a surprisingly deep connection with readers. I think that incremental aspect, that unpretentious daily aspect, is a source of power.”

In translating these four tips to screenwriting and TV writing, #1 would seem pretty obvious: We need to be so passionate about our stories that we are able to fully immerse ourselves in them.

#2 is totally counterintuitive. In fact, one of the earliest lessons I learned in Hollywood was the importance of answering this question about any project we write: Who is the audience? The answer had better be somebody other than “Myself” to gain traction with studio buyers.

#4 is another one that seems rather obvious. Movies and TV have power. If anything, we writers need to embrace that potential, especially the visual elements in our scripts.

It’s #3 that grabbed my attention: “Try to entice them with beauty and fun.” I’d never put those two together in one sentence re movies and TV, but when I read it, the words resonated with me.

Whether the script is a drama, thriller, horror, comedy or another genre, we need to maximize the potential for fun in any story we write. In this respect, fun can be dramatics, thrills, chills, laughs and anything else that grabs our attention as a script reader.

Beauty: I don’t think there’s a definition that does this concept justice in relation to movies and TV. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But if I were forced to parse Beauty in relation to screenwriting, I come up with these three aspects:

* Authenticity: Create a story universe and characters who feel real, no matter the setting, year or particular circumstance. A script reader cannot allow him/herself to experience beauty unless they believe the writer knows what the hell they’re talking about.

* Passion: When a writer is wholly enraptured by a story’s material, that emotional and personal resonance can help lift a story up and off its written pages.

* Inspiration: Whatever the genre, whatever the story, a reader can experience beauty if they feel the writer’s creative inspiration for that story… if they can identify with some universal truth therein… if they connect with the characters and live vicariously through them in their own transformation-journeys.

“Make it beautiful,” Watterson says. A worthy ambition for any writer.

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Writing and the Creative Life is an ongoing series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

For more articles in the Writing and the Creative Life series, go here.

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