Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Francis Ford Coppola on Creativity

Fostering and developing creativity is the work of any writer. Indeed, any arts practitioner must work to renew and inspire him- or herself.

Here's a rather interesting article on Francis Ford Coppola, which reveals his own processes. He stresses the importance of time and reflection for the creative individual:

It’s unfair, when you begin to create a shot, say, or a scene, [to expect] that it’s going to immediately be like those beautiful scenes in the movies. It needs a little bit of time to mature.

 He likens a creative project to a cake, which needs time to bake. Rushing a project is, as he says, 'like taking the cake out without letting it be in the oven for more than a minute'.

I always leave things a few weeks after writing them before even attempting an edit, unless I'm under strict deadlines. That way, when I return to it, I'm fresh. The idea has germinated in my mind a little and gained shape and definition. That's important.

This process is one of incubation. An important lesson I learned is to think about problem projects before bed. Your unconscious mind then strives to solve the riddle for you as you sleep. This is basically much of the theory behind Inception.

Do you use incubation? Do you leave your projects for a while between drafts? How had your opinion of a project changed when you've returned with fresh eyes?


  1. I certainly find it helps to let something rest a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. And sleeping on a problem has been very helpful on occasion.

    However, a problem (for me) is knowing at what point to let something rest, and how long to let it rest. It's happened that I've left something to rest so long, when I come back I find the effort of picking up the threads negates the advantage of the fallow period.

    Have you ever had this experience?

  2. John, you raise an interesting question.

    A project needs to be left awhile to grow, but not enough that interest dwindles. But then I also think if your interest isn't reignited when you return the project, perhaps it wasn't all that good to begin with?

    I don't know about you, but even when I read my really old short stories or poems, I still feel my interest flare up again when I see a valid idea. It's only when I see something as doomed or misguided that I have that problem.

    Do you agree? Or is something else going on in these circumstances?

  3. In this specific situation ... I am writing a novel. It's the first time I've written anything longer than about 15,000-20,000 words. (Target is 120,000.) I'm learning by doing.

    I hit a sticky patch and chose to let it lie fallow awhile, as you describe. (And as has worked well for me in the past.) When I came back to it, though, I found I had dropped too many threads. Obviously, I'm not used to holding so many plots lines, characters and histories in my head at one time.

    I had to pick them up again, and also try to find a technique for compartmentalising so I wouldn't need to carry them all in my active.

    As I say, learning by doing.

    It's an exciting journey, but is taking a hell of a long time. (And spending hours a day on social networks doesn't help, either :9 )

  4. John, that's a very insightful post. Do you write things down and make notes when working on a novel?

    When writing Troglodyte Rose, I wrote 'The Trog Rose Bible'. It was a huge file full of ideas, seeds, character profiles, descriptions of the setting and background information. As it was originally going to be a graphic novel, that file was to be used by the artists to help shape their work. But in the end it proved invaluable to me, both in terms of keeping things straight and helping me to remain inspired.

  5. Yes I do write notes etc. I have probably enough words written in the form of research notes, character backstory, plot lines, description and dialogue to fill - if not a bible, at least a couple or three of good sized box files. Fortunately most of it's in electronic form.

    I go back to it from time to time to remind myself of ideas I had, but often just having written it once is enough. I don't really need to look at it again.

    A techninque I've found useful for unsticking myself when I run into minor difficulties is to write myself a letter about the problem. Trying to explain to myself, as if to a sympathetic stranger, what the problem is. Surprising how often this has helped. It's a step up from talking to myself, I suppose. (I do that too!)

  6. That's a good one. Sometimes I need to sit on an idea for a while. Yesterday, on a commute between Manchester and Leeds, I figured out why my novel I stalled on last autumn couldn't get back off the ground. Reading Lord of Light, it came to me. Now I know what to do.

    Reading other works always helps. It reminds you of the mechanics of writing. It shows you how the greats do it.