Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Do You Have Your Best Ideas In The Bathroom?

We've all been there. Maybe you had one taco too many, and now you're seated on the throne, taking care of some pressing paperwork. Or you're in the shower, rinsing off the sweat and salt of the day. Then, out of nowhere, an epiphany! You get an idea for a new book, or you realize what's wrong with your chapter seven plot twist, or you suddenly know what to do about the problem of your protagonist's parents!

Thanks hot water!
Almost every writer out there has a story like this, and all of them share a single element; a completely mindless activity. Whether it's showering, taking a dump, lifting weights, fishing, doing the dishes, or any of a hundred other tasks, your brain disconnects as soon as your hands go to work. You can do these tasks on muscle memory, after all, so your brain is left to its own devices while your meat goes about the busywork.

Take Your Hands Off The Wheel, and See What Happens

Mental Floss lays out the chemical reasons for how we get great ideas when we relax our brains, but I'll sum them up for you here.

So, your brain has something called a default mode network, sometimes abbreviated as DMN. This network clears the passages between the different parts of your brain, and allows ideas and intuitions to flow freely. The problem is that, while we might call it the default setting, it isn't the mode most of us are in a lot of the time.

You see, most of the time we are focusing on something we're doing. Maybe it's solving an issue at our desk, navigating city traffic, or laying out a budget for the coming months, but whatever it is, this kind of thinking shuts off the default network, and boosts the frontal cortex. This is where a lot of our ability to focus comes from. Unfortunately, that very focus can often be a detriment when it comes to thinking around problems. Especially if those problems are creative in nature.

There's a reason we still use word association, after all.
This is actually one of the reasons creative people tend to be more easily distracted, according to Shelley Carson at Harvard. The insinuation is that it's hard for them to turn off the DMN fully, or that it's easy for them to revert back to it... even when they should be focusing on something else.

It's not just being in the right state of mind, though. You have to relax, too. Because when you relax, your brain releases dopamine, and that is the feel-good rush you need to really get the juices flowing. It's particularly useful for those who've returned to the DMN state, because then it lights up different parts of the brain, and things start bubbling up from the depths.

Practice Self Care, And See How It Helps

Sometimes the weight of a project can really get to you. When you feel like you've written yourself into a corner, or there's just too much word count for you to ever come up with, remember to take a break. Take a steamy shower. Clean the kitchen. Hell, light some incense and meditate for a bit. Whatever it takes to get your mind to unclench, you need to do that.

Think of it like a muscle cramp. You got there by putting in intense, focused effort. Some time on the couch with a heating pad is a lot more likely to ease that cramp than doing another set of bicep curls while hoping for a different result.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. I hope folks found it interesting, and if nothing else that you'll now have a conversation starter when you sit down with a friend who talks about their latest shower inspirations. If you'd like to see more from me and my blog, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 a month gets you my eternal gratitude, as well as some sweet swag to call your own. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, then now would be a great time to get started.

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