Writing this book almost killed me. For some crazy reason I agreed with my publisher to try to research, write, illustrate, design, edit and produce this book in a single year. 200 pages in 365 days. Was it possible? I had no idea but I confidently lied to him, claiming that it wouldn’t be a problem.
Ok, so 'killed' might be a little dramatic. All I'm saying is that it pushed me to the very limit mentally and physically of what I was capable of as I chased the essence of creativity in its purest form.
The reason I wanted to write about creativity, was that I had just come out of doing The Prodigy’s The Day is my Enemy album cover
. A brutal job which had taken 166 different ideas (with many iterations under that) to nail a single killer image. That journey had almost broken me as well. I wanted it so bad, yet the solution kept eluding me over and over again. When I did eventually catch the fox, I felt that the intensity of the experience had put me in a good place to write about the process one goes through when embarking on a creative adventure.
“What’s it called?” asked my publisher.
Smelling blood, I thought quickly and came up with a title.
“Hunting the Killer Idea” I replied.
INTO THE WILD
So that’s how the journey began. The next day, I woke up early before sunrise and started plotting the path I'd take. This is the most enjoyable part of writing a book. The sun is shining and you are literally strolling through fields of inspiration. I would ride my bike to the library at lunchtime and get out books on creativity and other related topics as I tried to tease out of my mind what I wanted this book to be about. I’d carry a notepad around and jot down ideas as they came to me. I was stopping to smell the roses and loving it every second of it.
This is the planning and preparing phase where it’s more about strategy than creativity. Sure, you're having little flashes of genius. Little premonitions, like a lighthouse on the horizon. But in general you're working out how much ground you need to cover to reach your goal. And anticipating the kind of weather and terrain you’ll be encountering along the way.
The sunny weather didn’t last for long however. The ground underfoot started to become less firm, the further away from the safety of the village I went, cold wind and rain set in as the certainty of where I was going set behind me. The problem was that the more I studied creativity and consumed books on the subject, an unpleasant thought dawned upon me; I had no idea where I was going, and even worse, it was becoming clear that I was definitely no expert on the subject.
There’s a plethora of books written about creativity by experts with PHDs and other important sounding titles. Every angle has been covered. In detail. Many times over. I realised I knew very little and had nothing new or original to say on the subject.
My energetic stride quickly turned to a sour trudge and finally a depressed slump as the burden of my desire to discover new territory became too much to carry. I had hoped, in a small way, to contribute something exciting and inspiring to the great canon that has seen the likes of Plato, Michelangelo and de Bono interrogate the limits of human creative ability. Instead, I was bogged down and going nowhere fast, as the path ahead of me disappeared without a trace.
BIG GAME HUNTING
Sometimes the only way to go forward is to go to sleep. I downed the pen and pad and got some shut eye. For a couple of nights I wrestled with it in my dreams as I turned the problem over in my mind. Then, one morning I was flicking through my notes, trying to retrace my steps, trying to catch a glimmer of whatever it was I thought I was chasing. And then I saw it... The title of the book; Hunting the Killer Idea. When I chose that selection of words it was because I simply thought it sounded cool. Sure, hunting means to search, and ‘Killer Idea’ means something gnarly. But it was all just some bad-arse urban slang I’d thrown together on the run. I hadn’t really thought about it deeply. All of a sudden this creature materialized out of the fog. I grabbed it bt the tail and studied it more closely.
What if I wrote about the creative process as though it literally were a hunt? What if ideas were creatures lurking in the jungle of the mind and the Killer Idea was the greatest of them all? The king of the jungle that demands the greatest commitment to catch sight of, let alone capture? Did this make sense? Or was it going to be just one big terrible pun that would set me up for even greater failure? Please, someone tell me which way to go. Unfortunately I was so deep into my own jungle, that the only nose I had to follow was my own.
I wrestled with this beast for several more sleepless nights, seriously not knowing if it was a good idea or it would make me the laughing stock for chasing such a naive metaphor.
In order to meet the deadline, I was having to stay up late most nights. A shot of coffee was always required to spur the writing and designing into the wee hours. The problem with that was, I was starting to have troubled sleep. I’d have at least one nightmare a night. Often waking up screaming at the top of my lungs in a wild sweat, disoriented and sometime grabbing my dear wife Charlotte, shaking her, thinking I was scaring off some beast of the night. One of my reoccurring dreams is that our children are being hurt in some way and I have to save them from what ever it is – a falling tree, a collapsing bridge, a hungry wolf. These dreams are really unpleasant. For both myself and Charlotte, who often has no choice but to shake me to my senses.
The challenge of holding down a full time job, being a husband and father whilst trying to write this wretched book was all becoming too much. All the more so, as I still didn’t know who I was writing the thing for. Wasn’t sure who I was as an author. Or how I was going to make something remotely original.
So without purpose or direction, I had no voice, no point of difference, and no thrust. Put simply, I was quickly becoming lost in a nightmare of my own making.
Once again I awoke startled from yet another bad dream with mixed up thoughts about the book and my children’s safety. However, in a blinding moment of clarity, it dawned upon me for whom I was writing the book.
I was writing the book for our young children – who many years from now would be grown up and will be having to make decisions of their own. About which way to go in life when at some point they will no doubt find themselves lost and alone.
I realised I was writing it for them. Not now, but for in 20 years time. My voice was that of a father, (affecting a salty pirate’s tone as I often do when I tell them stories before bed). I was writing, creating and making something that one day they might find of use. Something to help them escape whatever dangers they may face one day as they're hunting their own Killer Idea.
Because surely, is it not creativity, one needs the most to survive when alone in the wild?
More of the backstory coming soon...