An Insight into the Creative Process

Yann Martel, author of ‘Life of Pi’, speaks at the 2016 Canberra Writers Festival

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We appreciate creative works once they are finished, with little regard for the process of creation. This process is rarely a shared experience, with mistakes and dead ends left unrevealed. Just think of how many rewrites, alternative endings, and reproductions must exist amongst our most loved works. Even Edward Munch produced two pastel and two oil painting versions of the ‘The Scream’ (1893).

Imagine then, how many other copies of creative works have been destroyed or reinterpreted that we don’t know of, see or read. We only know of the final revision, the one that has been polished, framed and deemed ready for the viewer’s interpretation.

On one hand, I think most of us hold the perception that artists will all of a sudden have a flash of inspiration. On one hand many artists do attest to experiencing a moment of clarity, wherein an idea will almost reveal itself to them, but on the other hand, we just as often learn that the pathway to creative inspiration is anchored in tireless research and endeavor. It was a breath of clarity therefore, to hear Yann Martel, the author of ‘Life of Pi’, so enthusiastically share his own experience of the creative process at the Canberra Writers Festival.

Martel’s creative process is intriguing, and reflects his particularly imaginative yet logical mind. After experiencing a moment of inspiration, he commenced extensive research into the historical and cultural context of the story. For Life of Pi, this included traveling to India, reading the Mahabharata, learning about the Hindu religion, and studying the habits of the animals that so heavily define his work.

Partnered with his vocational experiences, Martel also began a creative flurry, noting concepts, research material and small sketches in his note book. He then cut up the pages of the notebook to include anecdotes, observations and such, sorted them into piles, and systematically compiled them in different folders for each chapter.

Although only two hours long, Martel’s enthusiasm was infectious. His excitement in retelling stories, and his engagement with the questions the audience asked, highlighted the potential for the Canberra Writer’s Festival to inspire Canberra with intellectual enthusiasm.

Hopefully the Canberra Writers Festival will become a staple in every Canberran’s annual calendar.