On the other hand, being told exactly what to write and how creates the “don’t tell me what to do” opposition response.
Writing prompts work because they hit that sweet spot of just enough freedom, just enough structure.
Your Brain is
Running a human brain is expensive. Running a creative human brain is even more expensive.
Your brain makes up roughly 3% of your body’s mass, but it uses 20 to 30% or more of your body’s supply of oxygen and glucose. To make such a big brain evolutionarly viable, humans evolved the first “energy efficiency measures.”
Our brains got lazy. They do as little as possible with the routine stuff. You don’t have to think of creative ways to tie your shoes or drive to work. You don’t even have to think at all, you do these things on auto-pilot, which uses very little brain energy. (more in Thinking, Fast and Slow)
This way, the brain has the resources to make those glorious leaps of creative insight, innovation and brilliance on the non-routine tasks.
The problem is recognizing when to shift the brain into overdrive. A
lazy efficient brain tends to stay in lazy efficient mode until forced to shift.
Frustration Forces the Shift
In Imagine, Jonah Lehrer writes, “the feeling of frustration – the act of being stumped – is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer – before we probably even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost.” (p. 6)
Then, and only then, will the brain shift into the high energy consuming creative mode. Then, and only then, can we see the question or situation in a new way and create innovative solutions.
Writing prompts and other creative constraints work because they get us to that frustration faster.
Where to Find Frustration
Many writing classes at the Loft Literary Center and elsewhere include writing prompts.
A search will reveal more writing prompt sites and blogs than you can shake a pen at. Here are a few:
Please share your favorite prompts or writing prompt sources.