A Guest Post by Livia Blackburne from A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.
With the need to come up with interesting posts week after week, blogging is a huge creative challenge. How do we make sure we’re functioning at our creative best?
At a recent conference, Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson spoke on harnessing your brain state for optimum creativity. Carson is an expert on creativity research and the author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life (aff).
According to Carson, there are two creative brain states: the deliberate pathway and the spontaneous pathway.
The Deliberate Pathway
The deliberate pathway handles problem solving, planning, reasoning. You use this pathway when you’re actively focused on a problem or task. For those interested in brain anatomy, this pathway primarily uses the prefrontal cortex, the most frontal portion the brain.
The Spontaneous Pathway
The spontaneous pathway, on the other hand, comes into play during idea incubation, immersion, and free association. You’re in this brain state when you defocus your attention: when you’re sleeping, in the shower, in a boring meeting, etc. The spontaneous pathway uses posterior portions of the brain.
So how does knowing about these brain states help you? You can either train yourself to switch your brain state according to your task, or you can structure your tasks so you take advantage of your current brain state.
The key is to realize that the majority of your creative ideas occur via the spontaneous pathway. Therefore, you’ll get most of your ideas outside of your formal writing time, during your idle moments. Creative ideas are least likely to occur when you’re sitting at your desk in front of a blank document.
To take advantage of spontaneous creativity, keep an idea journal and write down ideas as they occur to you throughout the day. It’s very important to have paper available to write things down. Because the deliberate part of your brain is also in charge of working memory, ideas you get spontaneously are very easily forgotten. Carson also recommends keeping track of when you get your insights. Perhaps you’ll notice a pattern.
Once you have your ideas, it’s time to switch to the deliberate pathway. To optimize this pathway, use the traditional strategies for focused productivity. Free yourself from distractions. Set mini goals and reward yourself after accomplishing them. Some writers also prefer rituals, like specific music or a specific beverage that gets you into the zone. And then, just write.
What do you think of Dr. Carson’s advice? Does it jive with your own experience of the creative process?
Note: This article is based on Dr. Carson’s talk at the course Publishing Books, Memoirs, and Other Creative Nonfiction, organized by Harvard Medical School. Read more by Livia Blackburne at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.
I’ve contemplated getting a water-proof notebook and pencil for in the shower. It’s frustrating to think of so many things and have no way to record them.
This is also a great argument for leaving kids (and people in general) some unstructured or daydreaming time.