Alligator Tales: Creativity Cannot Have Rules

When asked to talk on creativity, my very first statement is: “Ignore everything I say that might inhibit your courage to create.”

I am inevitably going to state some opinions and approaches that fail to support your personal process, your way of conjuring new thoughts and deeds.

Great ideas don’t always come with a thunder-strike of certainty. In their early formation, creative concepts are often wispy, ethereal thoughts that barely stop in the brain. They come at inconvenient times and often in puzzle pieces. They may feel valuable … but you don’t yet know why. This process of capturing your ideas and forming them can be intensely personal. And it is often seeded with doubt and guilt. “I’m wasting my time.” – “This is stupid.” – “It will never work.”

New ideas are like thought-children; we need to encourage them, nurture them help them to walk, talk, and to grow. It is normal to tumble occasionally; find out what tripped us and continue on again. And, please try not to let others bully your ideas when they are young and still developing. They may run away and hide. I know from experience.

The maturation of a creative concept is not a straight line.

In fact, we frequently depress ourselves when we look at what others have completed and compare it with the vague little spirits of ideas that we are trying to piece together. I call this the “ship in the dock” syndrome. When we see a completed film, book, or artwork, it can seem like some overwhelmingly successful vessel, loaded with powerful exotic goods. By comparison, our beginning work can seem weak and underwhelming. It may even make our hopes seem futile.

Often, the ship in the dock had a long journey that we can’t see. We don’t know how long it took, we don’t know the storms it had to suffer. We don’t know if it sailed in circles, got lost and surprised itself when it found this port. Or, if the crew puked over the side a few times along the way.

We truly can’t assess another’s journey from the end result and mustn’t make the mistake of assuming it was not as difficult as our own.

I’ve had scripts pour out of me in a few days and I’ve had one story that took me nearly 20 years to wrestle out of my psyche.

The truth is there is no right way to be successful — no guaranteed outcomes. But, if you never start the creative journey or you allow doubt to lead you to putting aside your hopes, you may have overwhelmed yourself unnecessarily.

Starting a new project isn’t always easy … you are forging into unknown territory. Expect to struggle; enjoy the struggle as much as possible as each obstacle will cause new responses. Each will evolve new tools in you.

Allow your child to grow, to play, to discover. In my estimation, most of the time the solutions will come. Not necessarily in the manner you first expected. And sometimes they will not feel immediately obvious. So it is vital that you develop an ability to accept how your body and mind works best. Be playful, be forgiving, be patient … but keep working.

Have courage and don’t let others define your methods. Have faith that answers will come … There is only one rule for capturing the inspirations of the creative process. Whatever works for you is right!

Read Pen’s previous “Alligator Tales” installments here.

If you like Pen’s blog, you can download a FREE chapter from his book Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (And Not Getting Eaten) at, published by MWP. The book is a unique insiders guide to succeeding as a screenwriter in a difficult business, and has been lauded by top Hollywood talent such as Ron Howard and Paul Haggis.

5 thoughts on “Alligator Tales: Creativity Cannot Have Rules

  1. Shirley

    Spot on. I am studying screenwriting and like acting there is no “write” way to do it. Studying what others have achieved is mind-boggling and self-defeating. While having the opportunity to study directing styles, some fledgling directors have said that it might be better to study the “bad” films in order to inspire. There are just as many bad screenplays as good – that is what I am told.

    On another note, I attended the writer’s conference (August) at the behest of one of my professors (who also attended) and I am sorry to have not gone up to meet you in person.

  2. Diane

    Thanks, Pen. I definitely had this syndrome this past weekend while going through the submission process and reading e-mails from other writers about all the places their work was accepted. Talk about wanting to crawl into a cave!

  3. Aaron

    Awesome stuff. Thanks so much. I have a script that’s killing me at the moment, mostly from paralyzation… I’m printing this and posting it in my writing room…

  4. patti meyers

    Thank you so much, Pen! I certainly have the ship in the dock syndrome…experienced it again today while reading someone else’s script…. and have been wondering why I bother writing scripts…only cuz I’m obsessed! I’m glad you’ve put a name to it. I’m saving your article so I can refer to it from time to time.

    All the best,
    Patti Meyers

  5. Shane

    Well stated. I’m going through a struggle where I’m trying to mesh my own inner process with the various methods and techniques absorbed from the countless books I’ve read. We each have our own unique process, and sometimes we don’t respect it out honor it in the face of those more experienced or successful than us.