Breathing Room for the Brain

As writers, we love to wrap the creative process in a shroud of mystery. We ritualize it, we personify it. We pretend there’s a magical spigot of creativity in the sky that only the writing elite can turn on. But the reality is, creativity is a discipline. Channeling it may be more art than science, but there’s nothing supernatural about it.

Creative thinking is a result of evolution. To survive in a hostile environment, human ancestors developed larger brains with the power to process observations, solve problems in innovative ways and share those ideas with others. Creativity led our species to dominate the planet, so it goes without saying that we should be able to summon a little of that power to write a simple story.

The brain is an invention machine, but the modern world has dulled its abilities. Most of us (myself absolutely included), spend our days in a state of constant distraction. Our attention is divided and then subdivided to the point where we don’t give most problems much more than passing consideration. Our thoughts are scattered and superficial.

So rarely are we forced to focus on one thing for any length of time that I sometimes forget how to concentrate.

In my personal experience, the mind works best when it’s free to roam. So, when I want to be creative, I make some breathing room for my neurons to fire. I get away from everything that distracts me — phones, computers and people — and go for a drive. As I’m driving, I think a little about the parameters of the project I’m working on, whether it’s a plot problem or a stalled script, and then I let it go. I allow my mind to go where it wants for a while. I let it daydream, remember and theorize.

It usually takes an hour for the chatter to die down. At this point, I’m usually sufficiently far away from humanity to get down to business (or I’ve pulled over and started a hike). Once my brain has sorted through the intellectual rubbish of the day, I’m ready to devote myself to the task at hand. All I take with me is a notebook. When the ideas begin to flow, I sit down and transcribe.

Letting go of the distractions is not easy and sometimes my mind insists on returning to the day-to-day concerns of life. There’s nothing wrong with that. But most of the time, my brain seems to take the cue that we’re going to create something for a while. It’s simple, but it usually works. Merely giving my mind room to stretch does wonders for my creativity, giving birth to ideas I never could’ve fathomed if I tried to force it.

Creative discovery doesn’t play by 21st century rules. It’s elusive, but worth seeking out. How do you make space for your imagination to express itself?

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Remember those distractions I mentioned earlier? One of my favorites is Twitter. If you’re hip to the tweet, you can follow me at @jonnyeberle.

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