Roald Dahl: Lessons in Productivity, Creativity, and Writing
Roald Dahl is known to be one of the greatest children’s authors of all time. His books, including Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, among many others, have captured the imagination of readers young and old. Dahl was not only an incredibly talented writer, but also a remarkably productive and creative person, who wrote dozens of books during his lifetime. Creative people can learn a great deal from what Dahl had to say about growing up and becoming more productive, imaginative, and disciplined.
Here are some lessons we can learn from Roald Dahl:
1. Have Fun
“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” – Roald Dahl
Working hard is one thing, but it is important to take a break and have fun. Intelligent, creative, and productive people know that indulging in a side-passion or even a little nonsense refuels our batteries and makes it easier to get back to work. Plus, having fun keeps us motivated and engaged in our work.
2. Draw on Past Experiences
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom” – Roald Dahl
Dahl got inspiration from his past experiences as a decorated fighter pilot and intelligence officer for the Royal Air Force. His success as a writer shows that past interests and careers can inform our work. Even if your current job is far from what you want to do, your past experiences can offer useful insights and ideas to create something fresh and compelling.
3. It’s Natural to Worry Where Your Ideas Come From
“A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not” – Roald Dahl
Even Dahl worried about coming up with new ideas. If you are involved in creative work, accept these fears as part of the process, and then move past them. Just keep turning up and putting the work in, and inspiration will come.
4. Routine is Important
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do” – Roald Dahl
Dahl’s observation about having “very little original thinking to do” refers to less creative careers. If you are in a dull job, you can still thrive by separating your original thinking into a routine time for writing or creative side-projects.
5. Writing Takes Discipline
“The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody there to scold him.” – Roald Dahl
Unlike other professions, being a writer demands that you work in your own company and keep your own hours. Although this brings a sense of freedom, it also means that you have to become even more disciplined and responsible about your craft.
6. Keeping a Journal is a Useful Practice
“Though my father was Norwegian, he always wrote his diaries in perfect English” – Roald Dahl
Dahl wrote two autobiographies: Boy: Tales of Childhood and Going Solo. Both of his books have echoes of a journal about them. If you want to become a writer, keeping a journal is a useful practice that can inform your work. You can use your journal to develop ideas for future projects, to document the progress of your work, and to mark your accomplishments and setbacks.
7. Creative Work is Hard Work
“Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours, he has been in a different place with totally different people” – Roald Dahl
Creative work is exciting. It can take you to another place and provide a refuge from the day-to-day world. It is also difficult and demanding work that can leave you emotionally and physically drained at the end of the process. It is essential to balance work and relaxation with the creative process to avoid experiencing burnout.
8. Draw on Sensual Experience
“Pear Drops were exciting because they had a dangerous taste. All of us were warned against eating them, and the result was that we ate them more than ever” – Roald Dahl
Observing and writing about day-to-day experiences that others take for granted is important for becoming a writer. You should record how things look, taste, touch, smell, and sound and then use these sense impressions to paint a colorful picture for your reader. This will bring your work to life.
9. Write with Your Ideal Audience in Mind
“Had I not had children of my own, I would have never written books for children, nor would I have been capable of doing so.” – Roald Dahl
Dahl wrote many of his books for his children and later his grandchildren. He considered the people closest to him when he wrote and created a world for them on the page. If you are a writer, consider who your ideal reader is, what they want, what they like, and what they dislike.
10. Have a Place to Work
“I go down to my little hut, where it’s tight and dark and warm, and within minutes I can go back to being six or seven or eight again” – Roald Dahl
Dahl wrote in a hut at the back of his house for much of his life. Just as office workers go to the same place every day, writers and creative professionals should also have a room to work in, where nothing else happens except their work. This makes it easier to create and reduces the chances of procrastination.
11. Take Advantage of the Shrinking World
“Nowadays you can go anywhere in the world in a few hours, and nothing is fabulous anymore.” – Roald Dahl
Dahl recognized that the world had become vastly smaller during his lifetime, and he lived much of his life in a time pre-internet and pre-mobile phones. Today, there is no need to feel isolated or disconnected with the advent of technology. Creating something and sharing it with the world is much easier now with the internet.
12. Be Modest
“An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life, and it is usually full of all sorts of boring ideas” – Roald Dahl
Dahl was not concerned with seeking fame or explaining the importance of his work. He was more concerned with seeking out truth without being self-promotional. Writers and creative professionals should be more concerned with crafting good stories and being true to oneself than with the external rewards or accolades.
Roald Dahl was a masterful writer, but also a creative and disciplined person, who shared valuable insights into his process. Following Dahl’s lessons on productivity, creativity, and discipline can lead to better output and happier lives. As Dahl once said, “A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom.”