People always ask cartoonists these three questions:
  1. How long does it take to create a comic?
  2. How many do you create per day?
  3. How do you come up with ideas?
The answer to the first question is that a 3-panel daily comic takes me about two hours from idea to final art. But it can be as fast as 30 minutes if the idea comes quickly and the art doesn't need much detail. The Sunday comics take about five hours apiece. The quickest I could do a Sunday comic would be about three hours.

My schedule is that I write two daily comics every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I do the writing and rough art in the early mornings, starting at 5 a.m., when my creative energy is highest. And I do one Sunday comic on Wednesdays. I do the finished art whenever I have time, usually evenings and weekend mornings. I aim for nine comics over seven days, to give some cushion for days I can't work for one reason or another.

The third question, about how I come up with ideas is more interesting. The simple answer is that I'm wired that way. It happens somewhat automatically. I couldn't shut it off if I tried.

But internally, the sensation is that I am trading memory for creativity. I'll explain.

My creative process feels to me like a stream of ideas rushing through my mind, pausing only long enough for a reflexive evaluation. 95% of the ideas get flushed immediately, thus making room for the next idea in the stream. For me, the active part of creativity is the flushing - also known as forgetting - of the bad ideas so the new ones have space to enter. The faster I forget, the more creative I am.

As luck would have it, I have a notoriously poor memory for most things. So my stream of ideas doesn't have much stickiness to it. The only ideas that make it out of the stream and into my more rational mind are the ones that move me physically. And by that I mean I have some sort of body reaction that can range from a giggle to goose bumps. If I don't "feel" the idea, I flush it.

If I feel the idea with my body, I let it stick around long enough to apply my rational filter. That kills most ideas.

But sometimes I have an idea that sticks in my mind so aggressively that the only way to dislodge it is to go public. So I blog about the idea, or put it in a comic, or otherwise give it some oxygen. That's the hard way to flush it. But once it's out, I can let go. I've done my job by giving the idea its moment in the sun. If it dies in public, it was meant to be. And I move on.

So the question I have for you today is about the relationship of memory and creativity in each of you. My hypothesis is that poor memory is necessary for high-production creativity.

In the comments, let me know your memory powers from 1-10 (ten is a photographic memory) and also your creative talent (ten would be commercially creative, like a daily cartoonist). This format would be useful:


Is memory the enemy of creativity?

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Jan 10, 2014
Scott I'm like that as well.

Memory: 2
Creativity: 9

Since I was a kid.
Jan 10, 2014
as judged by culture
memory 8
creativity 3

as judged by self
memory 5
creativity 5

culture focuses on specific discrete elements when measuring memory. I happened to focus on those elements, but there is a gigantic amount of information that I simply ignore that I KNOW others record, such as what color shirt did was that girl wearing? I have to actively make an effort to record someone's eye color, but i know what the word exchange was. in fact i am acutely aware of what the literal meaning of their words was and how they were abusing the english language relative to their intent.

I might be more creative than a 5 (that's what it feels like), but I've been conditioned to believe I'm not.

As for instantaneous give-take between memory and creativity 'eye accessing cues' seems highly relevent. memory and creativity seem to be mutually exclusive immediate functions.

For abstract skill i think its like a muscle that gains strength thru exercise. you could over develop both of them, but they each require their own separate practice, and neither directly harms/limits the other.
Jan 10, 2014
Very interesting.

Memory: 9 (back in the day)
Creativity: 2, maybe 3

That's for-real, staring-at-a-blank-sheet-of-paper creativity. Solving problems is probably helped by memory.
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Jan 10, 2014
Commercially creative is a pretty low threshold for creativity, since based on your description your rejection rate is about 97 or 98%. In many fields of science the rejection rate needs to be more on the order of 99.999% or so to actually come up with something new (add another two nines for any chances of it actually panning out). Getting up to that level of rejection rate requires a good memory, since you need to know which ideas that seem really promising have already been tested.

So extending creativity on a log scale I'd say:
Memory: 8
Creativity: 29
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 8-9
Creativity: 8-9

The photographic memory I had constantly as a kid only pops up occasionally these days, but I still have an extremely strong memory (I'm 49).

I am one of those anomalies who does science, engineering, math, language (English and foreign-to-me), visual art, and music. I also use dancing and cooking as creative outlets.
Jan 10, 2014
This agrees with a theory I have about creativity and and genius the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I think too much dopamine makes people confused, weird, and sometimes it makes them schizophrenic.

But when you temper that with serotonin and an ability to throw out all the junk that comes from high dopamine thinking, what you get isn't a schizophrenic: you get a genius. So "creativity" is about dopamine but productive creative thought is also about having the ability to toss all the junk - and focus on the best solution in the outside-the-box jumble.

This also explains why many very high ability people are a little "weird". It's because their brains are wired for nonconformist thinking. In the case of a genius there is a powerful, rational brain sitting on top of more chaotic and dopamine-driven stuff. Many geniuses are very strange people. And if know some neurology this all makes sense but I don't think anyone has formalized it yet in a study (although I think it will be soon thanks to new genetic tools - and lots of people will not like these conclusions - which is a topic for another day).
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Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 4 for random life stuff
7-8 for 'memorized' stuff (once I put effort into remembering something, it normally sticks, but I don't naturally put in the effort)

Creativity: ... depends on your definition. I'm not great with coming up with original ideas, so maybe a 3?
But when it comes to being 'artistic' like painting (for example I painted this fantastic step stool for my nephew for christmas... yes it's nothing that will change the world, but it's very pretty), maybe a 7?

Someone else commented that 'imagination' might be a better description for new ideas. Yeah, I don't have much of that despite the low short-term memory.

Occupation: Lead IT specialist
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Interesting question. I have a near photographic memory for musical things. I can sing and play at least 250 songs from memory right now, plus another 250 I'd have to think about to remember. I routinely forget other important things.

As a song writer my creativity comes in spurts. I'll go months without a new idea and then have 20 in a row. I find recording them allows me to forget them and move on through the stream.
I find it hard to let go of any ideas, even bad ones.
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 6?
Creativity: 6?

I have an alarming capacity for stuff no rational adult needs to remember, such as ancient B movies, discontinued junk foods, and naughty bits from Flashman novels. At the same time I've always had major trouble connecting faces with names -- even frequently encountered ones --and never trust my recollection of phone numbers.

An advertising copywriter for some decades, I tend to retain a lot of stuff -- particularly rejected lines or concepts I rather liked. So on a new project there's always the temptation to start by rifling my mental files for something already there. That's arguably the enemy of creativity. On the other hand, the final output is sometimes so far removed from the dredged-up idea that you can argue it was sort of a fertilizer for something actually creative.
Jan 10, 2014
eh. I have a terrible short term memory, but a pretty good long term one. I've won, easily, local trivia contests, and tried out for national shows, but living in the boring Midwest, it comes down to 'luck' - as in contestant searches choosing 1 or 2 out of 10 finalists (which I usually make), out of 100-500 entrants. But I cannot remember names for anything.

Long Term Memory:9.5
Short Term Memory:3

Creativity is a funny thing. I was a software applications developer for years, and sometimes I'd get really 'hot' and could write really good code (especially when I'd work closely with the final users). Sometimes? Not so much. I'm also a fiction writer and I've had stories put on the internet and some translated, and have had good feedback. When I get a story idea, I cannot get the words down in print fast enough, but sometimes? Not so much.

Creativity: When I'm 'on' - 9
When I'm not: 5
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 8 (used to be 10 in my teens to mid 30s)
Creativity: 8

I've been accused of being anal-retentive in many ways but creative in terms of applied solutions to problems.

I'm always annoyed by the lack of continuity in cartoons and television shows. Especially cartoons like Family Guy where a character is killed, maimed, or put into jail but they come back in another episode just fine.

I do think high memory levels can come into conflict with fun in story telling and that is probably why cartoons are notoriously inconsistent when it comes to continuity. If you confine yourself to one storyline, it makes it difficult to come up with new, out-of-the-box punch lines.

Hollywood is notorious with explosions and impossible special effects that defy the laws of physics for a given situation. I guess if they confined themselves to real-world physics and story line continuity, they will have less visual appeal or fun with a scene.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Scott; If you have a poor memory - do you ever get all the way through drawing and submitting a comic - only to have your editor send it back with a note: "Nice idea - but functionally identical to the comic we published on date-goes-here"?
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Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 9
Creativity: 7, maybe 8

I think you may be confusing creativity with productivity. There is no reason to think that a daily cartoonist would necessarily be more creative than any given hermit, simply because one sells his work. I have seen many daily cartoons that left me with no impression of creativity on the part of the author. There is certainly no justification for setting that as the top of the scale.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014

Memory: Wait for it: I forget
Creativity: Depends on who is observing

As a signmaker/graphic artist my ideas present themselves as sort of a seed buried under my normal mental landscape. The seed has some kind of mental warmth I can almost feel. I have to spend time cleaving away the normal workaday thought process (when to go to the hardware store, who wants me to call, got to paint those boards outside, etc.) to get at the seed and "nourish" it. So it seems to be normal thinking (that includes memory) that gets in the way of developing an idea. My hobby as a guitarist is the same. If it's a solo I'm up to, there is a seed thought. If I let my knowledge/understanding of the music that the band is playing persist while I try to solo, the seed crumbles and dies. If I give my attention to the seed and not the rest of the music, it can grow, flourish and be what it's supposed to be: music. Otherwise, it's just notes.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 6
Creativity: 3

Work (I'm a software engineer who can 'fuzzily' remember almost all the 1million lines of code I've been exposed to):
Memory: 9.5
Creativity: 3

Normal life:
Memory: 3
Creativity: 3

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
It seems to me that the process you described would work well for a comic strip (i.e. quick execution and on to the next one) but not for an extended creation such as a novel. Since you do both, I wonder if the you apply different techniques.

For the record...

Memory: 5 -- I think I had a much better memory when I was young ...but I don't remember
Creativity: 8 -- music, writing, design
Jan 10, 2014
What am I replying to and why am I replying to it?

It's over 9000?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 5 and steadily decreasing with age
Creativity: 3 and also declining

In writing, I find the low memory helpful because I can forget what I meant when I wrote a line and see it the next day as a reader would for the first time. That makes polishing the text a lot easier when I'm trying to express something particular without the meaning needing to rely on the mental baggage of a pre-existing context. But since humor depends on upsetting that context for effect, I agree that writing comics would require a different process than poetry or prose.
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 4
Creativity: 9

My wife has a great memory, so I outsource all those functions to her. This has allowed my memory skills to further atrophy, so 20 years ago I might have given myself a 6 or 7 on memory.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 8
Creativity: seven

The enemies of creativity are (thinking too much and the dreaded "just one more change")
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