5 more ways to boost your creativity for writing

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Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Some people don’t think they’re creative enough to write. If that feeling plagues you, be sure to consider these five tips on how to boost your creativity. 

I was reading the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer last week and had the deeply weird experience of finding in it a section about someone I knew. Here is part of the text:

Anne Adams was a forty-six-year-old cell biologist at the University of British Columbia when she was overcome with the desire to paint. She had no artistic training or experience, just a sudden need to create. And so she bought some stretched canvases and turned a spare bedroom into her studio. Before long, Adams was spending ten hours a day making art, painting everything from local streetscapes to abstract representations of pi.

(By the way, I am aware that Lehrer’s book has been pulled by its publisher for the fabrication of quotes. But I agree with Roy Peter Clark’s argument that the book is worth reading despite its problems.)

Anyway, when I was a teenager, I babysat for Anne Adams. I remember when she started painting and I recall going to several exhibits at her house. I also remember when she died at the age of 61 from an incurable brain disease.

The disease, I’ve just learned, was frontal temporal dementia. If something with such horrible consequences can be said to have an “up” side, this does. It releases an absolute flood of creativity. Why? Because it quietens the part of the brain known as the “censor.” This is, in fact, exactly what explained Anne’s sudden and previously unheralded interest in art.

Lehrer points out that while the condition sounds almost “surreal,” most of us actually experience it daily — when we fall asleep. (Ever remember any of the crazy things you’ve done in your dreams?)

A few months ago, I gave you seven suggestions for improving your creativity. Now, taking brain science into account, here are five more:

  1. Write first thing in the morning. I’ve long said that our internal editors are slower to awaken than our internal writers. (It’s on page 92 of my book 8 ½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better.) Now I know the reason why: it’s because our prefrontal cortex has been shut down for dreaming. Take advantage of that freedom from your critical voice and write as many words as you can first thing in the morning.
  2. Give yourself a problem before you fall asleep. Always be sure to start any writing project far enough in advance of your deadline so that you have a couple of days to “sleep on it.” This isn’t just a cliché. When we sleep our minds are free to think more wildly and creatively. Your dreams may be able to give you some solutions to your writing challenges.
  3. Approach your work as if you were a five-year-old. Children are experts at creativity. A refrigerator box can be a house or a car; mom’s lipstick and a pair of high heels can turn you into a princess; and, you know that one day you’re going to be president. So, allow yourself to revel in fantasy while you’re writing. (You’ll be editing later, anyway.)
  4. Meditate. To some people meditation may sound flakey. To others it will sound unnecessary. I can tell you that meditation is a valuable life skill that will be different from anything else you do. Meditation will help improve your focus and your self-acceptance. It can be practiced with or without religious beliefs. Here are 100 benefits of meditation. If you want to learn more, get the book It’s Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein from your local library.
  5. Always be a beginner. I don’t mean you should lack expertise – in fact, expertise will enhance your creativity. But if you approach every piece of writing with a beginner mind, you will be more prepared to take risks, to have fun and to be optimistic about your chances of success. And as Shawn Achor will tell you, happy people do everything better, even writing.

In response to last week’s column (Are you tense over your verbs?) one of my readers commented: “Writing is just so much hard fun work!” I love the way he inserted the word “fun” before the word “work.” That captures creativity perfectly.

How do you boost your creativity? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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