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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.

When to Shift Your Brain into “Creative Overdrive”

The previous post illustrated why creativity demands you shift from an active prefrontal cortex to a quiet prefrontal cortex and explained how you do that.

That leaves us with the question of when to shift brain states. I haven’t found a lot of research on what specific areas of the brain you want active or quiet in each of the six stages of the creative process, but I’ll stay alert. Until I find more, here are my best (fairly well-educated) guesses.

Stage 1: First Insight

In this stage, you’re looking for your next writing project or the next phase of a larger project. You wonder “what if, how about, why not…”

You should be reading widely to see what grabs your attention, completing an Interest Inventory (available in the Writing Habit class or by emailing me), freewriting, clustering, mind mapping, and using other brainstorming methods.

In most of First Insight you’re looking for alternatives and new possibilities, so a quiet prefrontal cortex (PFC) is needed.

However, this stage is also where you need to see the big picture and what’s missing — the holes in the whole — and this kind of evaluation requires more activity in the PFC.

You need to intentionally include both the diffuse focus on a quiet PFC and the sharper focus of an active PFC.

Stage 2: Saturation

In this research stage you seek as much information as you can about the topic, characters, setting, etc.

You read, interview people and use search engines, questionnaires, surveys, field research, etc.

This stage is all about getting the facts, the data and the details. An active PFC is needed to find and evaluate all this information.

Stage 3: Incubation

After you’ve gathered so much information, your conscious mind won’t be able to make sense of it for a while. Your main job is to keep your conscious mind occupied with some other thing so your unconscious is free to search for new associations and connections.

Patience is essential during Incubation; cracking the egg open early to see what’s happening inside only kills the chick.

If you don’t understand what Incubation is and what to do to move through it, this stage can be very frustrating. And if your PFC gets busy trying to force a logical solution too soon, you might think you’re blocked, even though this is a natural part of the creative process.

You can apply an active PFC to other tasks, but distract yourself from trying to hard to figure find a solution to the current creative quandary.

When you do attend to the current question, use the diffuse attention found in freewriting, clustering, doodling and keeping your body busy.

Find Out More About the Six Stages

If you like my blog posts on this and other writing resistance topics, you’re going to love my book Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance.

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  1. New Book Update: My Early Attempts to Embrace Uncertainty | The Bane of Your Resistance - June 11, 2013

    […] in First Insight (described in chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block). This is the inspiration stage of the […]


  2. When to Shift Your Brain Part 2 « The Bane of Your Resistance - July 2, 2012

    […] previous post reviewed what brain states are most effective in the first three of the six stages of the creative […]


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