Whether you're working on an essay, a presentation, that world-changing novel or your best man's speech, who better to ask for advice than the master of the surreal, Bill Bailey?
Push it to the limit
If you want to get your brain working, just go for a run or cycle. You should combine any intellectual pursuit with a physical pursuit as well.
If you get really stuck, you need to do something that's going to leave you winded, eyes streaming, just about to expire. You need to do something so you stop thinking about anything except survival. Wrestle a bear, that'll do it.
All of the power going to the creative side of your brain will go towards surviving. Then it goes back. It's like switching something off and on again.
Read, read, read
If, like me, you're trying to write comedy, it's good to just exercise the part of your brain that finds the funny. I read a lot, from the papers to giant, complex novels like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom to some absolute pap like Dan Brown.
Write, write, write
Write down way more than you need. Don't get too hung up on, "I have to come up with it in the first 10 minutes." That's never going to happen. Well, it might do – then you can have the rest of the day off.
In comedy, the only way you can try your ideas out is to put it in front of people. It's also good to record these early stages or even a video if you can.
Be confident in your ideas
If there's an idea I like, I will continue to do it, regardless of whether it gets a reaction. Or there might be a few people who really like it, and that's enough for me.
Only if no one likes it will I be tempted to put it on the subs bench.
Don't do a lemming
Sometimes, when you're running with an idea or a joke, it's hard to know when to stop. With experience, you realise that less is more.
Comics can just go over the edge. We call it "doing a lemming". You're following an idea and go, "Yeah, this great" and you don't realise you're in a bunch of lemmings and you go over the cliff and crash into the rocks below.
People often ask me how I write material and sometimes I say, "The second before I say it." I can be really liberating. It used to happen a lot on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and QI. I'd have no idea what I'm going to say and then you get there and a combination of things happen: ideas, thoughts, memories. All manner of synaptic pot pourri, something stirring in your cortex, some gigantic jambalaya of ideas that eventually comes to the boil.
It's very much in the spirit of comedy. It doesn't always work but some people make whole careers out of it.
I travel a lot when I'm not working or touring and sometimes you find yourself in some very odd places and situations. Even then, you find something you can use or you can get inspired.
Last year, I was in a restaurant in China and there was an owl in a cage on the menu. We found ourselves in this strange adventure where we bought the owl and went off into the woods to try and release it. We were followed the whole way by Chinese plain-clothed detectives.
Get some life experience
Experience is what gives you a lot of material. Things that happen to you, your observation of what happens and how you remember it all come together to make a story.
That's the essence of comedy; being able to distill the experiences of your life and of the world in a way that's funny, entertaining and somehow makes a bit of sense. Sometimes. If you're lucky.