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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Eight Essentials Every Writer Must Master – Part 3


You can’t know what your next step is if you don’t know where you are.

The previous post identified Essential #4 Care For Your Creative Brain. One of the things that creative brain of yours needs to do is to:

5. Understand and respect the stages of the creative process.

Although it is possible to stumble through the creative process without understanding it, writing is so much easier, effective and satisfying when you know what you’re doing.

What you do in your Product Time (aka writing time) varies significantly depending on which of the six stages of the process you’re in. To earn the satisfaction of completing a creative project, you must know what to do to move through each stage. Not knowing which stage you’re in will slow your progress and sometimes stop you altogether.

This is particularly true in the Incubation and Hibernation stages. It’s easy to mistake the reduced creative energy that is typical in these stages as writer’s block or resistance. Unfortunately, not understanding what you need to do to move through Incubation or Hibernation can create real resistance.

Our culture values getting things done. It’s easy to assume we should just buckle down, drive ourselves and push our way through all stages, ignoring or ignorant of the fact that pushing is exactly what we need to NOT do when we’re in Incubation or Hibernation.

Writers need to know when to push and when to daydream and let their minds wander. Do you know when to “do” and when to simply “be”? Do you know what to do when it’s time to do and how to show up without pushing when it’s time to be?

You’ll find a fair overview of the creative process in a previous post. If you’d like deeper understanding, you’ll find that in my Writing Habit class or in Around the Writer’s Block.

6. Surrender control regularly.

The trick is getting the left hemisphere to surrender.

Regardless of what stage of the creative process you’re in, creativity requires surrender. It’s not all surrender and passive waiting, but it’s not all goal-directed action either.

Specifically, the left hemisphere needs to stop being so bossy (goal-directed) all the time and let the right hemisphere be heard.

This is why I recommend Process as one of three habits to support the writing life. Process is creative play for the sake of playing, which the left hemisphere is definitely not a fan of.

Process is goofing around with crayons, paint, clay, paper, fabric, etc. or with movement or sound without any expectation of an outcome. The absence of a stated goal puts the left hemisphere off-balance and allows the right hemisphere to bring creative insights to conscious awareness.

In Product Time (what some call writing time), you have the intention to create something to share with others; Process has no goal. Yet it serves a vital purpose.

Because the brain uses a disproportionate amount of energy for its mass  — it consumes up to 20% of the body’s glucose and oxygen but accounts for only 3% of the body’s mass – it has evolved to reduce blood flow and neural activity in areas not currently engaged, effectively shutting down large parts of the brain.

While the idea that you use only 10% of your brain is a myth, it is true that at any given time you use only a small percent of your brain. Surrendering rigid left hemisphere-based control to engage in play changes that default setting.

The brain responds differently to opportunities for free play, which is defined as an activity done for the intrinsic joy of doing it that has no stated goal and has flexible guidelines that spontaneously evolve.

Free play engages the entire brain. Blood flow and neural activity increases in much of the brain. Areas that don’t usually work together start to interact. Play entertains us, expands how we use our brain, and challenges us to make new connections and associations that are the genesis of creative insight.

Find situations that encourage and support you in surrendering control. Take an abstract painting class or an improv class (I personally recommend Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop). Find playmates who encourage you to let go. Play make-believe or color outside the lines with young kids. Play with your dog or cat.

Let go, be silly, be spontaneous, make a mess, go without knowing where you’re going and leave your GPS behind (both literally and figuratively).

Surrender! Don’t worry, your left hemisphere will initiate goal-directed action soon enough.

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