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Posts Tagged ‘John Cleese

On Writing: Is This Where The Magic Happens?

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“…and then a cascade of miracles occurs…”

Yesterday I heard myself spinning a tall-tale to a quiet cluster of skeptical students.

as if

as if

I told them of a magical place they can go were writing connects the dots in a mysterious and inexplicable fashion. It is a place you arrive mostly clueless about what will happen next. But then you begin marking a blank page and words form into sentences and dots arrive and connect. The not-knowing of this place takes a bit of courage to sit with, but the payoff of processing your not-knowing is immense.

These were writing students, so many regularly visit this place. Some nodded in agreement. Some stared back blankly, though I suspect this tall-tale was their own experience as well. Some stared blankly refusing to participate no matter what—which is, of course, that great student default-setting.

John Cleese spends his retirement talking about this place (try here or here. And especially here). He characterizes it as more of a time than a place—which I completely agree with. A time away, which becomes a space bordered by time limits. I use timers to get to that place. This place where the magic happens is also called “flow” or “in the zone.” I’m certain you’ve experienced it as well.

For the working writer, I’m convinced that this place is bordered on one side by strategy and analysis and research.  And on the other side is marketing or talking to an editor or pushing “Send.” But in between: this magic layer where creation happens. It’s a place equally daunting and exhilarating.

Is there really such a place?

I believe so—see for yourself.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

John Clease: How to Make God Laugh

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“Tell Him Your Plans”

Listen to the entire interview here:






Written by kirkistan

February 13, 2016 at 5:00 am

John Cleese and Writing Funny

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The writing must bring the reader along.

John Cleese is nearly always funny. And he has a lot to say about writing funny. In the “John Cleese Interview” that follows, he says that Basil Fawlty (from Cleese’s Fawlty Towers) was never angry at the beginning of the show. The funny bit was showing how he got there and showing it in a way the viewer could relate to. He goes on to describe the difficulty he had finding a branch to give his auto a good thrashing.


Via Adweek

Written by kirkistan

January 6, 2016 at 8:40 am

I love the smell of failure in the morning

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Fail faster!

Reading student critiques of their social media experience is a highlight for me.

Everyone fails.

It’s impossible not to.

No one achieves the thing they set out to do, mostly because what they set out to do was so vaguely defined as to be well, impossible.

Which is perfect.

The class succeeds exactly because everyone fails. Not failing grades (mind you), but failure at achieving some vague world-altering purpose. It’s safe, convenient and inexpensive to fail in this class.

And worth every penny.

Because the lessons learned from trying something and hearing a target audience respond (or not, silence teaches many lessons as well) are entirely applicable to most any job these students will look for post-graduation. By trying and failing, they’ve learned lessons about specificity in word choice, the need to set a realistic purpose for engaging an audience, that social technologies can be fun and frustrating and that those tools require guidance and vigilance. They’ve learned a bit about what it takes to get heard in a crowded room and they’ve each had the joy of getting a response from out of the blue. Which, of course, makes a writer’s heart sing.

We’re coming away from failure quite optimistic, because we’ve counted the cost (to quote the biggest failure who succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams) of influence and we know the tools and all of us have a sense of exactly how we’ll pick up those tools next time. We’re also coming away optimistic because we’ve exercised our passion in putting words around ideas that make us hum. And that is thrilling stuff.

To recap: fail faster so you can begin setting realistic steps to tackle your world-changing proclivities.



No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition

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This was a favorite phrase back in High School, when there was no end to how much Monty Python we could quote each other. Lo these many years later, it turns out that John Cleese had quite a lot to say about creativity. I invited Mr. Cleese to lecture in my Freelance Copywriting class last week (via Youtube). Two lectures—spaced 18 years apart—show and reinforce that the best ideas come from sitting in that uncomfortable spot where things are not resolved. The quick solution is often not the best solution. Mr. Cleese argued we need space to become playful, time to border our playful escape from life’s ordinary pressures, time to grind through creating, confidence that mistakes made while creating mean nothing and humor—which is one of the quicker ways to get to this open mode needed for creation.

My goal with copywriting students (and with myself) is to learn to inhabit that chaotic place of unresolve. To live in that space—for as long as possible—while fitting different ideas to the problem. Looking for a match. The chaos of the unresolved space has some motivating effect that helps generate new solutions.

If we wait there.


Via Brain Pickings

Written by kirkistan

May 7, 2012 at 6:59 am

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