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?

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +37
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+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: poor
Creativity: poor
Analysis: poor
Social skills: poor
Problem solving: poor

Oh wait. I'm an idiot aren't I. Hmm.

[That made me laugh out loud. -- Scott]
Jan 10, 2014
Memory can be the enemy of *some kinds of* creativity. I think most minds spend more

time studying ideas that are interesting, because interest usually leads to elaboration

and academic accomplishment. I don't think you make something funny by elaborating the


If you're a world-class poet creating a major moment of work, the longer you gaze at

your phrase, consider, polish and refine it, the better it is going to be. I think very

few poets ever say "no, I liked the former way better" and undo the last evolution in

their work. I think this is because most great poets recognize improved effects

instantly, like being hit by a lightning bolt; and they are the process of evolution,

not "spotting something new". (The cartoonist might pick up some element that strikes

him, like a magpie may think.) For him, the lines created by long grinding and

tinkering are inevitably inferior. This probably means that to improve his work, a

cartoonist must not try to adjust and polish his line; he must see if another lightning

bolt comes along.

The implication this has for a cartoonist is that he must constantly and rapidly sift

through ideas, and not endlessly study and consider the last panel he has drawn. A

punchline, for instance, has to emerge in essence fully formed and smack him right in

the face. The poet, on the other hand, has to fit the new line into the framework of

what he is saying, the meter in which he writes, and the rhythm he wishes his poem to

carry. This means he must take the line as it came to him as a sort of rough draft

anchor point, which his memory must keep sharp and bright in mind for an extended time

while he works on improving all of these "fittings" simultaneously.

I would imagine the cartoonist just sorts through successive ideas like you would a

pack of cards and says, "yeah, this one grabs me". He's not going to have a lot of

successive ideas if he keeps thinking about the first one he came up with. To this

extent, memory, or focus, may be harmful to creativity.

Meanwhile, the poet has to keep his golden idea fixed so that it is firm , bright and

constant under his gaze so it will be clear when everything coalesces. He must also

carefully recall the feelings he had for each variation of his work so that the process

of comparison yields, in the end, the best one.

So I suppose my answer to your question is sometimes, depending on what you're trying

to do. This is a very interesting question, which itself lends itself to a better

answer via the use of memory and refinement. It might be fun to consider a lot of

creative modalities and see which ones are more like poetry and which are more like


I'm sorry my answer to your question is more or less off-the-cuff. If I had had more

time I might've made something really cogent and interesting out of the answer, and it

might suggest ideas for further refinement. Unfortunately, that's all the time I have

this morning.

So what do you think?


Leon Malinofsky
Jan 10, 2014
There's probably something to that.

I often find that I can get stuck in thought loops if I'm fixated on a single concept as far as ideas go - and often what breaks a block is when I finally get it out of my head, give myself some distance, and come at the block from another angle I hadn't even considered that often works better than anything I was floating in my head.

I dunno if "creativity" is the right word though - "imagination" might fit better.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2014
Offering the results prior to asking the question isn't a good practice for a survey. But in the spirit of playing along.

Memory: 8
Creativity: 8
Jan 10, 2014
This is like that time you asked us to rate our success numerically; damn hard to come up with a good, objective rating. You gave good criteria for '10' but what about the other numbers? What is a '1' memory? Alzheimers? Or just very very bad? How does one judge whether their memory should be considerd a '3', a '5' or a '7'? Problems even worse with creativity (how does a soulless bureaucrat have a creativity rating of 7 Octavodia?) Think we should ditch the numerical ratings and shoot for a brief description of our creativity and memory.
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 9
Creativity: 2

I don't believe that "problem solving" creativity is at all what we're talking about.
My ability to draw, compose, author, or do any other activity that relates to putting together new or new-ish ideas out of what's in my head is minimal at best. I can solve problems all day long (that's what I DO, actually). But you solve a problem by consulting a list of troubleshooting tasks stored in your excellent memory and then trying them one at a time or mixing them around until something starts working (or you've somehow made the problem worse, that happens). Even the most inventive problem solver wouldn't rate very highly on the scale of "real" creativity - the analogy being someone who can push a few buttons to make a machine function better vs the person who looks at it and then goes and designs a better machine.
Jan 10, 2014
Memory: 9
Creativity: 7 (primarily of the problem-solving variety).

Occupation: soulless bureaucrat.
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