Confessions of an Outlaw: Chaos and Order
High-wire artist Philippe Petit describes his process of compressing chaos in order to build a model for creative output.
Philippe Petit has performed on the high wire more than eighty times around the world. He is famous for his 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Petit is also a magician, street juggler, visual artist, builder, lecturer, and writer. He is the author and illustrator of several books, including To Reach the Clouds, the basis of the 2009 Academy Award–winning documentary Man on Wire.
Petit's latest book is titled Creativity: The Perfect Crimes. His World Trade Center act is the subject of the 2015 biographical film The Walk directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Philippe Petit: I kind of welcome chaos at first as the power of my creativity and then by itself, with a little help from me, the chaos becomes order and then, of course, I have a plan and I acquire the ingredients that the plan needs like you know making a dish.
One good way to put chaos into order is — and it works for me and one should try it; maybe it works for you too — is to make a list. A list of subjects, for example, if I’m about to write a book or a chapter of a book on something, I’m going to put a list of the thing that I have to talk about and then the list becomes unbearably long of course. And how can this stupid list which is unedited, how can that list be distilled and help you as a writer in my example to arrive to starting to write clearly and succinctly a passage of your book.
Well then there is the process of editing. So maybe it’s not editing. Maybe it’s more compressing or revisiting. So I take this ridiculous list and I start scratching things that really came from my mind, but are to be deleted. Or I start associating those three items, actually they’re only one. So I compress. I associate. I cancel certain things. Also of course more words or more, you know, thoughts would come. And then at the end that list becomes very naturally a blueprint, a synopsis, a guideline and if you have a blueprint for an architect you can start doing a three-dimensional model to show the constructor how you want your house built. So as a writer if you have a synopsis, you can start writing because it’s a skeleton of your thoughts.
It distills things. I think personally my head is really exploding in all directions when I am about to embark into let’s say a piece of writing. You can hear in my voice I am getting excited talking about what people sometimes fear which is a blank surface or a blank calling and what can you do. So that list and later on the arrival of reflection moment is what I need to start being intelligible on the page.
High-wire artist Philippe Petit describes his process of compressing chaos in order to build a model for creative output. When faced with a long list of goals and subjects for a creative endeavor, make a list. Introduce order. Compartmentalize your thoughts and ambitions. The key is to find the precise marriage between madness and structure.
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