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Sunday, March 11, 2012

How to Make Your Writing and Editing More Creative, aka, the Power of Blue

by Cynthia Light Brown

It wasn’t a coincidence that Archimedes had his epiphany about buoyancy while taking a bath. There are advantages to not paying attention. When our focus is pulled away and we’re distracted, our unconscious has a chance to make associations between disparate ideas.

As writers, we all know the importance of BIC, or butt in chair. You have to actually get words on paper. But when we hit that wall of creativity, or we need to sift through the ideas we come up with, we need something different. We need distraction and blurriness.

There’s lots of new research that backs up what people have known for a long time. If you’re having difficulty with a difficult plot point or how to make a character more memorable, sleep on it, or take a long, hot shower (check out Jonah Lehrer’s book IMAGINE: HOW CREATIVITY WORKS to be released March 19, or this article in the Wall Street Journal).

But what’s perhaps surprising is that letting ourselves be distracted is even more important to help us discern which ideas are good ones, and which are better left hidden (see here for more on that). Which means that before you take out the editing pen, you need to have time away – the longer the better. And it turns out that this works best if you are happy when you come back to the editing. So just tell your husband (or wife) that you REALLY need to take a week-long trip to the Caribbean to prepare yourself for editing your next best-seller.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas for encouraging creativity, culled and adapted form the WSJ article:

1. Daydream.

2. Pretend you’re a seven-year-old.

3. Think exotic – pretend you’re in a lost civilization, or in Outer Mongolia. Or maybe the Caribbean.

4. Surround yourself with blue (red, on the other hand, helps you be more alert). There’s lots of blue water in the Caribbean.

5. Seat yourself outside a 5-foot-square workspace, which helps you internalize the metaphor of thinking outside the box. This actually, really-truly helps. Who knew.

6. Live abroad. I’m thinking that while I may not be able to actually live abroad, I could take a nice long trip to somewhere like, say, Jamaica.

7. Work when you’re sleepy. This actually helps improve success rates on creative puzzles by 50%.

8. Have a glass of wine. Or two. Think Hemingway.

I’m off to visit St. Lucia (at least in my daydreams...). I’ll spend the day on the beach daydreaming and surrounded by rich, blue water, dig a huge sand castle while pretending to be seven, then head back to the cabana for a few exotic tropical drinks and a late night of editing while sitting next to a large box.


  1. I haven't been to St. Lucia yet, but I could use a creative boost so I'll offer to join you there!
    Seriously, these are some excellent suggestions - off to give some a try, though I'll hold off on the wine until evening. Thanks for this interesting post.

  2. I suppose this explains why the blank end pages of all my cryptic crossword books are filled with penciled notes about whatever I'm writing, or thinking about writing.

  3. I can't afford a trip to the islands, but a shower works!

  4. Well, I'm living abroad... who knew it was adding to my creative powers! Though the UK isn't exactly the Caribbean! ;)

    Really fascinating list, thanks for sharing this.

  5. Mirka, shower almost always works for me. And actually, Anne, imagining the UK would work for me too since I haven't ever been there and it thus feels exotic. Susan, I haven't seen anything research-wise about doodling or the like and links to creativity, but I personally think there's something about that physical process of writing, notes, doodles, etc. that inspires creativity in a way that word processors don't. And Carol, today in Pittsburgh was so beautiful that I didn't even have to imagine St. Lucia.