Basil Fawlty: No Pain, No Gain
I recently got a heavy dose of insight and encouragement from The Minister of Silly Walks himself, Monty Python's John Cleese. What he said hit so close to home that I just had to share.
First, a little background. I’ve said before that writing is a painful but worthwhile process. For me, a brief’s life cycle goes something like this: (1) excitement, (2) curiosity, (3) abject dread, and (4) relief.
Step 3 seems to occupy more than half my time. I’ve often wondered why I spend so many hours in a psychological dungeon. It just seems so unnecessary and counterproductive.
Or maybe not.
The other day, I watched this Instagram reel from John Cleese on creativity. (In 2020, he published a book on this topic. I haven’t read it, but I’ve ordered it.) In the reel, Mr. Cleese describes research into a phenomenon that we writers know all too well: Whenever we work on a problem, we experience discomfort, anxiety, and agitation until we resolve the issue at hand. We don’t like it. We want it to stop. And the best way to make it stop is to choose a course of action that puts the whole affair behind us.
This is where creative people excel. According to Cleese, “the most creative professionals” “have learned to tolerate this discomfort for much longer.” This tolerance allows them to “put in more pondering time.” And as you’d expect, this extra mental effort leads to more creative solutions.
This is very good news. Suffering through anxiety isn’t pointless after all. It serves a noble purpose: The longer you spend sweating it out, the better-conceived your brief will be. If you’re like me, your most impressive achievements emerge after long stretches spent laboring through the issues and painstakingly presenting difficult arguments in a simple and persuasive way. It’s not fun at the time. But when you file that winning brief at the end, the satisfaction is glorious.
Pain is temporary. Victory is forever.