We all know that Einstein worked at a Paton office before-you know-the theory of relativity, that Natalie Portman majored in Psychology while working on Star Wars, and John Green does just about everything. As creators we’re drawn to stories of unusual starts, of inspiration that came from unlikely places. We love the idea that someday we can unsuspectingly walk into a McDonalds and be assaulted with an idea that’s sure to be the next Hamilton.
And yet, there’s the matter of how to bring on the “Aha” moment. Back in Ancient Greece, poets and artisans attributed inspiration to their Muses, the daughters of Zeus that would favor them and possess them with creative spirit. (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, actually talks about this in a TED Talk). However, the modern creator-aspiring and professional alike-can’t exactly sit and twiddle their thumbs, living on crumbs until their hit with said cultural phenomenon (or something to pay the bills at the very least). We need something now.
And, wouldn’t you know it, science swoops in to save the day.
If you, dear reader, have watched 30 Rock, you probably have an inkling as to what’s coming next. In one fated episode where America’s Business Man Jack Donaghy coined the immortal phrase “The Shower Principle”, effectively explaining how he planned to manufacture creative thought. The general gist is to distract the mind with a menial low-engagement task, allowing it to wander and play with the fledgling ideas peculating in the back of one’s skull. This, although beautifully articulated by Alec Baldwin, is not a new development in the land of psychology and neuroscience. In those crowds, you’ll hear it called “Sudden Cognitive Inspiration”, and it’ll be more accurately explained as what conditions need to be met in order for an epiphany to occur rather then how to bring about those conditions. But even so, the question stands. Can one induce inspiration?
Data and Observations:
If you google “the Eureka effect” or the “Aha! Moment”, more likely then not the names Joydeep Bhattacharya and Bhavin Sheth will pop up once or twice. That particular dream team has done a fair amount of research into the mechanics of inspiration and, oddly enough, they found that having an open mind is key when it comes to creative problem solving. This revelation was brought about when they had a group of young adults try to solve a puzzle and found that those who asked for a hint were less likely to come up with the solution. They say the hint locked them into a state of mental fixation, sub consciously blocking any other alternatives they might have explored-ones that might have held another part of the solution to the puzzle. Scientists Beeman and Kounios weigh on this as well, saying that the “Aha! Moment” lives primarily in the right side of the brain, where problem solving elements are assembled into a solution.
It’s commonly known that necessity is the mother of invention. So while being open minded is good, starting without a…well, starting line isn’t probably the right way to go. Sometimes, when muses decide to spend the weekend in the Dells without telling you, what you need is a good proverbial kick in the pants. For that reason, many writers make use of writing prompts, pre-set scenarios that a writer would flesh out on the page. Theodysseyonline.com talks about how this helps. And, if you’re interested in giving it the good ol’ college try, Writer’s Digest has got you covered. (Or the Publishing Lab’s facebook, by the way. We post prompts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Just putting that out there.)
Chances are, without knowing the science behind it, you already know all the tricks. Going for a walk, cleaning the apartment, breaking for lunch, cleaning the apartment again. It’s one of the primary jobs of all creators to master their muses and generate content on the spot. Knowing how the machine works has its own rewards as well, if nothing else then to wander down a new avenue.
Nicole Macahon is an associate editor at The Lab Review and The Publishing Lab. She has work published with Literally Stories and videos up on the NikMacPattyWak Channel *when she can*.
Image Source: 30 Rock