Improving Creativity: The Connect Brainset

Today we are diving back into our series on improving creativity for writers, based on Shelley Carson's book Your Creative Brain. If you are just joining us, check out the first two installments: the Absorb brainset and the Envision brainset.

Today's brainset is the Connect brain set.

The Connect brain set is the closest to our usual idea of creativity. It involves the ability to generate a large number of unique and out-of-the-box ideas. Instead of settling on obvious solutions, a person who’s comfortable in Connect brainset imagines all kinds of off-the-wall possibilities. To a Connecter, a glass isn't merely a vessel for holding water. It's a paperweight, cookie-cutter, bug trapping tool, weapon, rolling pin, musical instrument, and more.

This brainset is also characterized by the ability to make unusual associations. For example, someone less comfortable with the Connect brain set might associate the word ‘cake’ with birthdays, flour, candles, etc. But someone strong in the Connect brainset might think about mud, the computer game Portal (The cake is a lie!), cabaret girls jumping out at parties, pie, cakewalks, etc.

How to strengthen the connect brainset:

1. Practice turning off the critical side of your brain. You can evaluate the ideas later. The more ideas you generate, the more likely it is that you'll hit upon a really good one.

2. Brainstorming with other people helps, but you’ll get more unique ideas by brainstorming separately before sharing what you came up with.

3. Take advantage of good moods. Studies have shown that people perform better in these creative tasks after receiving an unexpected gift, laughing, or hearing a good joke. And this seems to work in the opposite direction as well -- generating ideas quickly can improve your mood.

4. Go outside. Studies suggest that exposure to bright light and beautiful scenery improves mood and decreases cognitive inhibition, putting you in a better frame of mind to create freely.

Exercises for the Connect brainset, inspired by Carson's exercises but tailored for writers.

1. Plot Development Sprint:

Think of an undeveloped story idea, and write down a few areas where the plot needs fleshing out. For example, say you're writing a story about a girl who visits her grandmother. You might list as questions for more exploration: Why is she visiting her grandmother? How does she get there? What obstacles do she meet along the way? Now set a timer for 3 min., and write down as many answers as possible to your first question. Remember, don't evaluate these ideas. That's for later. After these 3 min., move onto the next question, trying to come up with more ideas each round.

2. Story idea brainstorm

This idea is inspired by writer Dean Wesley Smith’s short story challenge. Flip through any random book and pick out a phrase that stands out to you. Now write that phrase down, and set your timer for 3 min. Now pretend that phrase as the title of the story, and generate as many scenarios as you can to fit that title. Next, pick two phrases and brainstorm as many stories as you can incorporating both of those phrases in some fashion. If you're adventurous, move on to three or even more.

There are four more brainsets, but I won't cover them on the blog because I don't want to give away too much of the book. If you're interested in learning more, check out Your Creative Brain.

What have you learned about creativity from the series?

Note: In a nice dovetail to this post, science fiction writer Paul de Filippo just published an essay with 40K books on writing science fiction -- more specifically, science fiction that isn't stingy with ideas, but crams as many as possible into one story. 40K books was kind enough to give me a copy to give away on this blog.
How To Write Science Fiction (A Maximalist And Recomplicated Travel Into Sci-Fi)

Here's the description of the book:

The complete title of this work is: How to write wild-eyed, overstuffed, multiplex, maximalist, recomplicated, high-bandwidth Science Fiction, or, “realize I don’t wanna be a miser/how come everybody wanna keep it like the Kaiser?”

Don’t expect this book to be a traditional “How To”. It’s a travel into the Science Fiction.

“Science fiction is the literature of ideas?
Sure it is—on a tightly rationed basis!
The truth is, most writers of science fiction and fantasy are naturally stingy.
We tend to hoard ideas, like the dragon Smaug lying on his treasure. We parcel them out in dribs and drabs. One notion per story. Maybe two High Concepts per novel.
Why do we do this?”

To enter to win a copy of the book, do one of two things:
1. Share this article on twitter, and leave a comment with your twitter handle
2. RSS subscribers will see a secret password at the bottom of their post. E-mail scratch that send an e-mail to with that code as the subject line.

I will choose a winner on Wednesday, July 13.

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  1. This is very interesting. I like the challenges you give on coming up with new ideas.

    It's funny, when I was a teenager I thought my best writing came when I was really depressed. For a long time after I finally got over that depression I thought I couldn't write again and put it off. It wasn't until I was an adult and realized how much I missed writing that I tried again and found how much the opposite is true. We can be inspired by so many different things/moods. But now, I feel as though the happier I am, the more confidence I have in myself as a writer instead of the reverse.

  2. My twitter handle is @mdpopescu

  3. Now for the non-contest comment :) Interesting ideas about brainstorming - I'm a wannabe writer, and I'm still at the stage where "got stuck and gave up" is the main mode. Thanks for the tips - I'm going to try them out.

  4. Livia, I am always intrigued by your articles...I think the scientific take on writing is absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas!


  5. Hi, Livia! Followed a link from Passive Guy to find you. In my experience, most people stop the process way too soon when brainstorming. You can't just generate four or five ideas and call it good. That's just a warm-up! Can you tell I love brainstorming? It's like play-time for adults. Anyway, I love your blog. Your take on writing is different and illuminating.

  6. Kathryn -- Carson actually dedicates a whole chapter later on to negative emotions, and how they can enhance creativity as well.

    Marcel -- writing exercises are great for getting unstuck! They got me out of quite a few ruts.

    Linda -- thank you so much! I appreciate seeing you around the blog.

    Torminardwrites -- great point about giving up too early. That's more like a brain sprinkle than a brainstorm :-)

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I don't write Science Fiction, but Paul Di Filippo's book sounds a little bit on the crazy side. Therefore, I would like to read it. LOL


  8. I'm always interested in how the mind works and how to be more creative, so this series of posts was quite interesting. I found you through Passive Guy.


  9. I found that my idea of creativity was always this. The means of creating original things. But looking at the other two, (and no doubt the rest) they are all parts of the larger whole.

    A (possibly unrelated) question:
    The amount of each brainset that is present in people, is that hereditary, or does it all start out equal and then develop as you go?

  10. Me twitter at ccc10 and posted re your free bk and creative ideas...

  11. #4 is so true--I instinctively seek out quiet naturalistic places to help come up with new ideas. Pumped to check out the 'how to' scifi book-it's definitely a challenging genre.


  12. i saw myself in all three of the articles. I shared the article on my twitter feed: @StageGrandma

  13. Thank you everybody for your comments and retweets!

    Jake – nobody knows for sure, but I would guess that it follows the usual pattern of being a mixture of genetics and upbringing.

  14. Livia, Great series. What I got out of it was an affirmation to trust the "less cognitive" parts of my brain, even when my "cognitive" brain screams that its linear processes are the shortest distance between where I am and where I want to be. When writing, sometimes it takes courage admit you aren't going to solve a problem by chewing on it. I associate it with Keats's "negative capability."

    Kathryn, I wonder if you wrote more fluidly as a depressed teenager because in that sadder mode you weren't posing and trying to fit in and please people...? Which is a trap teens often fall into. A thought.

  15. Helen -- If you're a cognitive person, definitely try doing more freeform stuff. And vice versa for people who are less cognitive. It's all about stretching your comfort zone.