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Learning & Development Blog

Making Space For Creativity

Turn Off Your Brain: Making Space for Creativity

When my nephew, Meir, was three or four years old, he used to tell me “stories” that were completely uninhibited by reality. His ideas were so charming and unusual that, even at that age, I realized we had a truly creative soul on our hands. (To complete my “proud auntie” image, here’s a painting of an iceberg that he did this past year. )

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"Iceberg" by Meir, age 10.

This got me thinking about why young kids are often able to express their creativity while we, as adults, struggle to do so. It seems that, as we grow up, we start to censor ourselves, critique our own work or ideas, and maybe even shoot those ideas down before they've even seen the light of day.

I did a little online research, coupled with some reading I have done over the years about the creative process, and it looks like one of the keys to creativity is to (temporarily) shut down the frontal lobe, the critical/logical part of the brain, in order to make room for inspiration to percolate in your "creative" brain.

The artist, Kimberly Brooks, speaking about her 8-step creative process, added a phase: SILENCE. By creating a “space” (whether temporally or psychically), you allow your mind to daydream, to create, with neither the judgement or negative self-talk that your inner Jebidiah Atkinson is so fond of, nor the distractions that so easily overtake one's life. 

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Jebidiah Atkinson, SNL
 

 A colleague of mine calls this “time to sit in my chair and spin.” I love that.

Consider two examples of what I’m trying to get at:

1) A quote from the book On Writing by Stephen King, which illustrates an oft-repeated theme I have noticed among many writers: that of creating a distinct separation between the “creating” part of the writing process, and the “editing” part, where logic and a critical mind are key to honing one’s story into something that someone might actually want to read.

"You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination— two things which are related, but not really the same— have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work.

My advice is that you take a couple of days off— go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle— and then go to work on something else. How long you let your book rest— sort of like bread dough between kneadings— is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing.

If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”

2) From the world of jazz, I give you Keith Jarrett's solo concert in Japan in 1984. Frankly, it’s a little uncomfortable to watch. Why? Because here is a person who is definitely not self-censoring. He is completely enveloped in the creative process and it’s visible all over this performance.

By the way, in case you don’t think you are creative, I give you this to chew on: I have found that the brain often “creates” when we’re least aware of it.

Imagine this scenario: It’s the end of the work day, and you come to a crashing halt before some enormous obstacle to your progress. A computer glitch, a suddenly gigantic problem that occurs to you, whatever. You go home. You go to bed. And the following morning, the simplest and most elegant solution presents itself.

This has happened to me many times. Why? Maybe by walking away from the problem and engaging your logical mind with other things, you have allowed the creative mind, subconsciously, to work out the solution.

Give yourself a little “mind-space” and see what happens. It might lead to some interesting thoughts and ideas. And who says they have to be practical or realistic?

I mean, was this practical?

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