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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.

Don’t Let Logic Eclipse Your Creative Writing


You know, of course, that stars don’t “come out” at night. They are always there emitting the same amount of light all day, all night.

We just can’t see the stars until the sun “sets,” or more correctly, until the part of the planet you’re standing on rotates away from the sun enough to escape the sun’s overpowering light.

Only when that dominant light is turned off, can we see the stars that have always been there.

Stop Seeing the Old Sun

In 1936, noted economist John Maynard Keynes observed: “The difficulty lies not in developing new ideas, but rather in escaping from old ones.”

Let me apply that to creativity: the challenge of creativity lies not in making new ideas, connections and associations, but rather in escaping our usual way of thinking and perceiving that block our awareness.

In an interview with Scott Barry Kaufman, Professor Allan Snyder, Director of the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney said:

 “A fundamental bottleneck to creativity is our inability to join the dots up in novel ways. We have a predisposition to impose prior connections. But, creativity would seem to require that we, at least momentarily, free ourselves of previous interpretations, enabling us to link disparate ideas into a new synthesis.”

Let the Stars Shine

Just as the stars always shine, some parts of your brain are always making new connections and associations, perceiving fresh images and ideas. You don’t have conscious awareness of those insights and perceptions because the brain’s dominant mode of rational thinking is so intense. Your brain’s “sun” is always shining.

This is not a guess. Researchers use weak magnetic or electrical stimulation to inhibit brain activity in the left hemisphere, specially, the left anterior temporal lobe. This transcranial stimulation turns off the brain’s
“sun” — neural activity so bright and loud, it drowns out our awareness of other kinds of neural activity, the stars of creativity.

When researchers Allan Snyder and Richard Chi used Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, (tDCS) to turn off certain areas of the brain, the owners of those brains scored higher on creativity tests. Before tDCS treatment, none of Snyder’s and Chi’s subjects could solve the unsolvable, “nine-dot” problem, so called because decades of testing shows that 0% of test subjects can solve it, even when given hints and multiple tries.

After tDCS, 40% of Snyder and Chi’s subjects solved the unsolvable problem without hints!

Let’s Watch the Sunset

Professor Synder’s research shows that transcranial stimulation frees subjects of their “previous interpretations” to a degree that allows them access to the kind of cognition savants demonstrate. His video illustrates this so much better than I could explain.

Until Snyder’s magnetic “thinking cap” is available or we have routine access to TMS, we have to content ourselves with ordinary ways of turning off our typical rational mode of cognition, that is of making the brain’s sun set, so we can access the stars of creativity. More about that in our next post.

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  1. Want to Write Better? Think Different! | Bane of Your Resistance - April 13, 2017

    […] our previous post, we explored how your brain is naturally creative, always making new associations and connections, […]

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