Harvard University creativity researcher Shelley Carson recently published Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. She was kind enough to mail me a review copy.
Carson divides creativity into seven distinct categories, or “brain sets.” Each brain set is a different flavor of creativity, and different people will naturally have some brain sets that come more naturally to them. In her book, Carson describes each brain set and provides exercises for strengthening it, and I thought it would be fun to talk about these brainsets as they apply to writers.
Carson emphasizes that these are not scientifically proven fact, but a model inspired by current neuroscience research. I wouldn't view these as an ironclad description of the way things are, but rather as springboards to develop your own creativity.
The first brainset is the Absorb brainset. This brainset is all about being observant -- noticing the world around you, and paying attention to random thoughts that pop up from your subconscious.
Developing the absorb brainset will help you in several ways. First, it increases your resources for solving problems. Perhaps you need better character descriptions, setting details, or ideas for resolving a pothole. The more material you have to work with, the better and more original your solutions will be. Second, being generally aware will open your eyes to new problems or projects that you want to tackle. After all, many great books were inspired by a single image or idea that caught the author's attention.
To access the absorb brain set, you want to do several things. First, you want to train yourself to notice and appreciate novelty and easily missed details. Second, you want to delay judgment and let the ideas flow freely. Modern society and schooling often trains us to focus our attention on the task at hand, but to access the Absorb brainset, you want to defocus your attention, noticing everything that comes across your mind.
How do you strengthen the Absorb brain set? There are several ways:
1. Practice! Make it a game with yourself. Set a timer for a few minutes and just try to notice new things. Cycle through all your senses – what you see, hear, smell, and taste. Don't judge or evaluate, just absorb.
2. For writers, try doing the same thing with language and stories. Break out your favorite novel, a piece of poetry, or sit outside and listen to people talk to each other. What do you notice about their word choice, the cadence of the sentences? If you are reading something, what do you notice about the plot and the characters, how do they make you feel? This is how I come up with material for the majority of my blog posts on writing technique.
3. Some outside factors will also enhance the absorb brain set. Alcohol, for one thing -- the stereotype of the alcoholic artist is more than stereotype. For more liver-friendly creative enhancement, try exercising. Research has shown that the two hour period after exercise results in enhanced alpha and theta wave activity, which is associated with the absorb brain set. You're also more creative during the period after waking from REM sleep, but that's a little harder to plan.
Now readers, your turn. What are some other ways to use or strengthen the absorb brain set? Stay tuned next time for the Envision brainset.
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