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Creativity and the unconscious mind

John Cleese recently spoke at the World Creativity Summit about how he creates opportunities for his creativity to run amuck, and how much the unconscious mind is to thank for the success he has.

He discussed the age-old adage of sleeping on your problems, which really does work. While you are sleep, you unconscious mind continues to look for a solution. (I assume this is why I wake up with fantastic ideas at 3am).

He also described the absolute destruction of being interrupted when you’re trying to be creative. I’ve tried to explain this one to people far too many times – don’t talk to me when I’m writing! Otherwise, I just lose it, and believe me, it doesn’t come back. Whole novels have died on the tips of my fingers due to a breath from some ignorant boff who doesn’t know to leave me alone when I’m holding a pen.

I’m guessing this is why he describes the creative mind as a “tortoise” that you need a create a “safe enclosure” for. This part of your mind is delicate. It is a lady, it needs to be treated properly, afforded certain care, and kept nurtured in a soft dark place. Only when you have the right time and the right place should you allow it out. One interruption, one dismissive word, and it will go inside its shell and may never return.

(Which makes me wonder why I am happy to let my tortoise, or at least it’s creative produce, frolic openly on the internet. Kind of like creative mind porn).

Anyways, here is the original blog of Cleese’s keynote. (One of the things I find interesting is that he’s talking to a mixed ethnicity audience, and he uses his trademark hilarious humour to no avail. They just don’t get the joke.)



About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at


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