What You Can Learn About Creativity from Emma Donoghue

The "Room" author and recent Oscar nominee on originality, multitasking and ceding control

Written by PROFIT Staff

Emma Donoghue is the author of the novel Room, as well as the screenplay for its movie adaptation, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. Her latest novel, The Wonder, was released in September.

Late last year, Donoghue talked to Courtney Shea about creativity, collaboration, and why she believes it’s important to multitask. Here are four things you can learn from their conversation, which you can read in full here.

On originality

“I’ve always tried to welcome ideas regardless of how commercial they might be, and my literary agent is very supportive of that. Even Room came about by following my own freaky idea that certainly didn’t seem obviously commercial. I feel very dispirited when I meet young writers who say, €˜Oh, I want to write vampire fiction because that’s what’s in.’ That wasn’t what J.K. Rowling was thinking when she decided to write children’s fiction set in a wizard school. You don’t create an extraordinary hit by copying somebody else.”

On collaboration

“I wrote the script [for Room] by myself first so that the director and I could agree on the direction of the movie before we found a producer. It was an unusual way forward, but publishing the book had been such a great experience I was determined not to see a bad or even a mediocre film come out of it. And I was in an unusually good situation, because Lenny [Abrahamson], our director, gave me a lot of input. Still, it was an adjustment. You have to be really open to the unpredictable, but it’s also far more sociable and fun.”

On distinguishing good ideas from bad ones

“My method is, basically, time. I typically note down all my ideas, and maybe do a bit of research, and then I let them sit for years on end. It works for me because I’m typically committed to several things already, so there is plenty of time for ideas to percolate. Its almost like a compost—occasionally two ideas will come together into one.”

On multitasking

“It’s not five projects in a day, but I might work two weeks on one thing, then two weeks on another. I like it when my projects contrast. I was doing The Wonder, which is very dark and adult, at the same time as the kids’ book, and it was great because each was kind of a respite from the other.”


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