Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10 Creativity Lessons from George Carlin (Part One)

A year before George Carlin died, he appeared on The View. Like most writers, whenever anyone within earshot starts discussing the creative process, I pay attention. In the first few minutes of this interview, Carlin explained the influence a mindset shift had on his work: he said he had transformed from a "comedian who wrote his own material" to a "writer who performed his own material". He felt this reflected a maturity in his work, and he was able to delve deeper into his subject matter.

Of course, his subject matter has been controversial for years (even prompting a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court), but whether you loved or hated him, you can't deny that his voice touched the hearts, minds, and funny bones of many. I recently finished his book, "Last Words", which was published after he died. I suppose it's technically an autobiography, and you gain an understanding of how his views were formed from an early age. However, with my "Student of Creativity" lenses on, I was able to carve out some crucial lessons for writers from his words. So many, in fact, that I couldn't fit them in one post. Whether or not you are a fan, you should be able to take away some significant road signs from Carlin's journey.

10 Creativity Lessons from George Carlin's "Last Words"

1. Write Like Everyone’s Reading
            Or, more accurately, publish like everyone’s reading. In the beginning
of Carlin’s career as a stand-up comedian, he had some nights performing in front of very small crowds, and in one case, the audience didn’t show up at all. The owner of that club in Baltimore insisted that George do his act for the empty room—“In case someone comes in, I want him to know there’s a show.”

            Now, while you market your work and do your best to assure your blog, book, articles, poems, and other writings aren’t playing to an empty room, it sometimes happens. However, don’t let your work suffer because of it. Not getting many hits on your blog? Instead of tossing it aside or neglecting it for months on end—show up! You never know when a special someone is going to walk in that door. Make sure your material is special enough for them to stay.

2. Paying Your Creativity Dues
            Carlin was always very proud of being a comedian who wrote his own jokes, many do not. Even so, his early television experiences never felt quite right to him. In the back of his mind, he was aggravated by thoughts that what was coming out of his mouth was not in his true voice. Instead of quitting at that point, he recognized that it was the price he had to pay for the chance to do his own stuff.

            You have a dream. It is to be a writer. And, more than likely, you want to be a specific type of writer: a novelist, a songwriter, a poet, an award-winning journalist… So, swallowing the dream means washing it down with a healthy swig of reality—your agent is pressing for a few character tweaks, your new song or poem was written with popularity in mind instead of passion, your current writing assignment has you tracking down types of bugs instead of criminals. But guess what? You are still writing; and although you may feel that it is not entirely “you”, it is a stepping stone to becoming prolific and accomplished enough in the art of writing for the world to want to hear more of your own voice.

3.  Working Through The Layers          
            [A]n eruption may seem like a split-second drama, but it’s actually the end result of a long process that’s gone on for years far below the earth’s surface. My change when it came was like that, drawn out over several years, then exploding in a series of eruptions.” –George Carlin

            In this part of the book, Carlin talks about his own creative change simmering below the surface. He knew change was coming, but wanted it to happen in its own time. It took longer come to light than it took for his hair to grow—the same look that would come to represent his new “hippie” style. And even when these changes took place, he knew his work was constantly evolving. Later, he would understand how drugs and drinking impacted his creative spirit. At one time, he felt some of his vices helped his creative process, but eventually he faced the fact that it was detrimental to him, causing another shift in his creative shell.

            Writers and other artists are rarely ever “overnight sensations”. It may seem that way when someone “breaks out,” and suddenly unknown people become household names. But the truth is, their work has been planting itself in different places, out of sight until all the right ingredients come into play, allowing it to spring up and bloom for the world to see. In these days of instant access to just about any kind of entertainment or information available, it’s important to honor the creative work that grows naturally. This way, we will have more compassion for ourselves when our writing is forcing itself through some hard rock and more respect for the work of others, knowing that it was lovingly cared for until its own springtime.

I’m surprised at how many ideas smacked me right in the face as I was reading. And thanks to my Kindle (a gift from my sweet hubby), I could highlight and jot a virtual note as I was reading (I never liked doing that in physical books, it felt "wrong" somehow). I'll continue with the lessons in a my next few posts.

While George's work may not have been "family-friendly" on his HBO specials, he's also the same guy who played alongside Thomas the Tank Engine in PBS' Shining Time Station. If you're wondering why I'm showcasing a guy thought of for spouting Seven Dirty Words (and then some), that's one reason: He was versatile, as we should all strive to be, in our writing and in our lives. (Another reason, he made me laugh and he made me think!)

Until next time...take care of your "stuff"!

What artists' (writers and non-writers) creative process intrigues you? If you knew, would you follow their footsteps, or create your own?

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