The Hidden Key to Creativity


If you’re a highly creative person, you probably don’t know exactly what makes you tick. Your ideas come from…somewhere, without you knowing most of the time where that really is. But you do know one thing for sure. You want more. More creativity, more original ideas, more zings of inspiration every day. As a creative writer, this is what gets you off and keeps you fulfilled in life. A dynamic, satisfying relationship with your Muse.

Most of us aren’t clear on where our creativity comes from because a lot of it runs beneath the surface. It’s frequently the unconscious realm that supplies us with the images, symbols, and intuitive feelings that function as the seed of our story. Many writers have told me that they see a flash of their main character, or groups of characters, in their mind and the narrative unfolds from there. Or that they suddenly “know” the ending to a story they haven’t even begun yet.

That very important realm of the unconscious is part of every writer’s creative process. There’s a theory of creativity that calls the unconscious processing phase the “Incubation” stage. This is when you take a break from consciously focusing on your ideas so that your unconscious mind can nourish and grow your inner creative ground.

Letting your subconscious mind incubate works best if you can occupy your hands with a distraction that your brain finds creative, soothing, and fun. As writers, we are artists, and that means we are creatively tied to our hands. So even if we’re not in the act of writing, if we’re making something beautiful, something that has personal meaning to us, our creative impulse is still being fed with nourishing light.

Here are a few ways you can incubate at your best, and I do recommend that for the best incubation, you do each of these activities alone.

Getting your hands in the soil and spending time outside, in the sun, is highly beneficial for writers. Gardening is a tactile activity, with lots of opportunities to experience rich textures and smells. It can also be gently repetitive, which helps your brain to relax, and it can be done in solitude, which encourages more of those precious “ah-ha!” moments to show up.

Great cooking comes from a place of mindfulness and balance. When we spend an afternoon in the kitchen, bringing thoughtful presence to each pinch of spice we add, or the careful, steady kneading of dough, we enter a state of flow. As we savor each step in a recipe, we give our busy minds a chance to rest. And as we focus on bringing our ingredients together, the other half of our mind can focus on bringing together everything else.

This is a great exercise if you’re a visual-type of person. Check your local library or thrift store to find old magazines and then go wild. Tear out any image that appeals to you. Bright colors, striking faces, beautiful landscapes. Use a glue stick and some poster-board to create your very own masterpiece. I like to pick a theme before I start tearing out pictures and then go on a specific hunt for images that resonate with that theme. Even if you’re not an arts-and-crafts kind of person (and I’m really not) this works well for writers because our artist-hands get to be busy while our artist-eyes are entertained with beauty.

Walking Long Distances
After walking continuously for a while, our bodies find their own motion and rhythm. Our breathing becomes measured and engaged, repetitive. Our circulation gets going, and so do the undercurrents of those ideas bubbling in our heads. It’s most helpful to walk outdoors, where the mild distractions of your neighborhood noises or the transformation of the evening sky at sunset can occupy the forefront of your mind, letting the creative seeds of your next masterpiece to root down deeper and take hold in the core.

If you’re interested in sounding the depths of your own creative process, check out the Four Stages of Creativity according to Graham Wallas. And if you’re looking for more creative inspiration check out my list of 5 Best Writing Prompts. Remember, most of this whole writing thing is supposed to be fun. When you make time for your unconscious mind to incubate, you can get more work done while you play.

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