If you’re like me, you probably take for granted the complex quantum computer that is your brain.
And when you work on this digital superhighway of hedonic hyperactivity, it’s easy to be consumed, and even overwhelmed, by the sheer amount of irrelevant information you feed it every day.
Breakneck political scandals, societal tribalism, the hamster wheel of 24-hour outrage, heavily Photoshopped #sponcon, and the endless notifications to check your endless notifications.
Sometimes our need to feel plugged-in can lead to momentary nirvana. But very often it leads to brain clog and even a cessation of good idea creation.
All of that stuff we’re putting into our brains can overload our neural circuits like at no other time in history.
When you live by the sword, it’s easy to get cut
The content treadmill so often churns out writing that is uninspired, drab, and seems as if the author was typing it with one hand while swiping Tinder with the other.
How many times have you opened a few dozen browser tabs only to read just a couple lines of each and move on?
It’s the same content you read last week, with a slightly different stock image and the commas moved around.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu
So what can writers and content creators do to reboot?
Unplug from the internet forever and buy a tiny house off the grid where you can tend a cactus farm, do peyote, and write the great American novel?
Sure, if that’s what you’re into. But many of us work on the internet. We’ve invested our livelihoods in this crazy array of chips, wires, and words.
We actually want to communicate effectively with, and help, the tribes and audiences we love.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King
As any writer with a desire to move an audience knows, you have to read, and read with depth and breadth.
Not mindless web surfing and social media gawking that often leads to the evaporation of time and brain cells.
For the purpose of deep learning, the exploration of novel ideas, unique idea formation, and problem solving or innovation, writers need focus.
You also need time to incubate, relax, rest, and give your magnificent brain a chance to do some of the work.
Curiosity begets creativity
My colleague Sonia Simone calls it, “Doing cool stuff time.”
Work on a hobby, learn a new language, read a book for pleasure (paper beats ebook for this), play music, or ditch the GPS and take a walk and try to get lost.
It’s something Einstein dubbed combinatory play, and it’s the key that gives your brain’s “imagination network” the time to make those disparate connections that excite and surprise.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling, multi-genre New Zealand writer Steff Green and she had a great take on this.
“Creativity is, more or less, a synonym for curiosity.” – Steff Green
There are different types of curiosity, both good and bad
One definition of curiosity:
“Desire to know or learn … esp. what is novel or strange; a feeling of interest leading one to inquire about anything.” – O.E.D.
And of course there are a dozen obsolete definitions that read something like the proverb “curiosity killed the cat.”
“Care or attention carried to excess or unduly bestowed upon matters of inferior moment.” – O.E.D.
And if you feel stuck in some kind of filter bubble, cognitive bias feedback loop, or tsunami of cat-killing curiosity, it’s absolutely possible to jumpstart your creativity.
Well-worn paths in your brain lead to breakthrough
Neuroscientist Michael Grybko and I did an episode dedicated to the neuroscience of creativity:
“Creativity can be improved upon. The more you try out new things, the more skills you develop, the more creative you’ll become.”
“We have these thoughts in our head … electrochemical signals causing these neural networks to fire in certain ways. This firing translates to a certain memory.
What’s important is to just build up your knowledge base … the more information you have in your head, the more creative you’ll be — the bigger the pool of ideas you have to draw from.” – Neuroscientist Michael Grybko
Of course, not all knowledge carries equal weight for learning or creativity.
Your brain sends signals triggered by things like reading a paper book, scribbling marginalia, sketching, and taking notes on paper, that gives them more weight and importance for recall.
And I always come back to Austin Kleon’s creativity manifesto, Steal Like an Artist:
“…Nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original….”
“Every new idea is a mashup or remix of one or more previous ideas….”
“Your job is to collect good ideas. The more ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.” – Austin Kleon
So take a break from the social media time-suck loop to reboot your brain.
“The truth is, most of us discover where we’re headed when we arrive.” – Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson
And when you’re ready to write, those new ideas will be waiting.
Just remember, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Reader Comments (5)
LJ Sedgwick says
I can always tell when my brain is getting ‘clogged’ because I can’t think of anything new…and then I go back to reading a book while commuting instead of scrolling Facebook, I read on my lunch break, or I make an effort to go somewhere new to explore. Works like a charm!
Kelton Reid says
See below …
Good Information! Long drive all alone into the hills with light music works for me.
Kelton Reid says
Love it! I interviewed an author recently who said that he thinks the perfect antidote is to walk through a museum. You get novelty, introspection, and exercise, all in one 🙂 Thanks for sharing – K
Lisa Cunningham says
Taking a walk or even a long hot shower works for me. I try to also take Sunday to be off the computer completely. No social media at all. Just reading a book, taking walks, shopping or going out for a meal. Anything to be “normal” again.
It helps that I don’t live with a writer, actually. They remind me when I’m spending too much time on my laptop.
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