A few days ago I was sitting in a pub (not unusual) listening to a conversation happening at the next table. Hey, I was alone and waiting for someone, and they (the next table) were loud. They weren’t terribly interesting, either, so I didn’t get a blow by blow account. Basically, from what I could gather, they were trying to come up with a snappy slogan, possibly for some sort of company that had something to do with boxes.
They came up with “think outside the box”. You know, that thing people tell you to do when they want you to be creative. However, “think outside the box” is now such a horrible cliché that telling someone to “think outside the box” in order to instigate creative thought is pretty much the least “outside the box” thing you could possibly do.
Eventually our friends at the next table realised this fact on their own and decided to change their slogan to something a little more original. What did they finally settle on? “Think inside the box”. I shit you not.
Anyway, this whole scenario got pretty boring fairly quickly, and I was soon on to thinking my own thoughts about “the box” and how important it is. The box is one of the most critical components of the creative process. If you’re trying to do something amazing and artsy and innovative from scratch it can be hell if you don’t have a box. The box represents your parameters, and what everyone already knows about the thing you’re trying to create.
Once you have a box you can feel free to take it out, show it a good time, build it an extension, beat it until it’s less like a box and more like an oblate spheroid, or simply biff it over the neighbour’s fence and run desperately fast in the opposite direction. But you need a box to begin with.
If someone were to tell you to write something brilliant, make it really creative and think outside the box, you’re probably going to find yourself in an awkward position. To start with, this person is a cliché loving muppet who’s giving you no useful direction whatsoever and is probably hell to work with. However, these people’s money is as good as anyone else’s, so most creative types will find themselves working for one of these at some point. Chances are high that you won’t come up with something favourable to this person easily as the field is wide open. Do you write a play? A blog? A short story? A novel? An instructional leaflet? Should it be non-fiction? Fiction? Illustrated? Funny? Political? The options are endless. So many ways to go right, and so many more to go wrong makes it so very hard to go write.
However, if you build yourself a box you have a starting point. If you know your piece must be based on something revered and historical, but be brought into modern language and involve animals (because they’re always fun), you have the perfect basis for your hysterical screenplay set in Antarctica amongst the penguins, loosely based on Measure for Measure with a pimp-tastic Emperor called Pompey Bum. See how you just smashed through that box with comedy penguin sex? Easy! I’d see that movie at least three and a half times over the course of my lifetime. And I don’t see that many movies.
What’s my point here? Well, those folks at the next table should have just built themselves a box in the first place. A large, noise resistant, crate type contraption, big enough to house the lot of them with a lid that fits on snuggly so that I can’t hear a damn word they say and can get on with the business of drinking quietly and alone until my pub buddy deigns to show up.
That would be ideal.