Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons for fueling creativity

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From the most recent alumni magazine from the University of Alberta, here are Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons on fueling creativity. Collected and presented by Stephanie Bailey. Find her on Twitter at: @s____bailey

Lesson 1: Create a sanctuary for creativity …

Because writers produce their best work when they are given the freedom to do what they do: write. The Simpsons writers work within a protective bubble that is largely free from the bureaucratic interference facing other sitcoms. “If we want to do a joke, we do it. If we want to do a storyline, we do it. It’s really a creative paradise.”

Lesson 2: Welcome waste …

Because the creative process is inherently inefficient. It can take nine months of rewriting to create an episode of The Simpsons and as many as 40 hours to perfect a single joke. “I don’t think creativity can be efficient. You know when you’re done, but you don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

Lesson 3: Don’t get married to an idea …

If it takes away from the larger story you’re trying to tell. “Even if you have a great idea, it’s sometimes even a better idea not to use it because it hurts the overall picture, the big picture. Don’t fall in love with the little gem; look for the bigger gem.”

Lesson 4: Fight your first instinct …

And push yourself to think more creatively. In the writers’ room, the writers often flip an initial idea and try to think of it from a totally different angle. “The first thought is often not the most creative thought — it’s the most obvious one.”

Lesson 5: Admit it, some ideas are just bad …

But there are benefits to bad ideas. When people aren’t mocked for a dumb idea, it helps create a safe environment in which they feel comfortable taking risks. And bad ideas often lead somewhere great. “There might be a nugget in that idea that someone else can hear, pick up on and build upon.”

Lesson 6: Be humble …

When it comes to deciding on the best idea — the idea that will get the biggest laugh or make the greatest impact. “When you’re generating all of these ideas … somebody has to make the decision, filter them all down and choose one …. The trick to being a filter is to take yourself out of it, be humble and recognize that the group, frankly, knows better than you do quite often. Surrender to that.”

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