I am not a professional or student of the medical sciences. I am a person who is fascinated by the human capacity for creativity and as a writer, creativity can come from many different sources. A moment, an event, a sensation, a conversation, past experience, a fleeting thought, another person’s creativity are all some examples of where creativity comes from. With all of these sources though there is one common element, or in this case organ, which feeds into our ability to create and that is the brain.
This led me to ponder the challenges I face when it comes to writing. The times when I am unable to draw on the right word or image to put down on paper. The times when the plot of my story encounters stagnation or a path that leads to a dead end. As a writer, I have read and listened to a lot of different approaches people take to get words down on paper. Coffee, keeping a notebook wherever I go to jot down ideas, going for a jog, developing a routine, changing up the routine, dedicating a set amount of time toward writing, drinking orange juice, doing a storyboard, plan out the story arcs… there is much that has been said and written about how to get yourself writing and I imagine these same approaches are recommended for other creative pursuits whether you be an architect, inventor or artist.
However, at the end of the day, I have concluded that whatever the approach, however you draw on inspiration, it all requires the use of arguably the most important organ in your entire body – the brain.
I find it interesting that the medical world, from what I can tell, considers the brain an organ and not a muscle. Regardless of the definition, I have no doubt that the brain needs to exercise and like any exercise, to really improve, to get better at it, to evolve, you have to do it even when you don’t feel like it.
When I went through high school, two of the most distinct groups I identified were those kids into sports and those kids into studies. Jocks, geeks, sportsperson, scholar, athlete, nerd – whatever the terms used (rightly or wrongly), these were assigned to differentiate kids while I was growing up. More importantly, I subconsciously looked at the two groups as one that focused on building and honing muscles (sportsperson) and one that focused on learning and storing information in the brain organ (scholar).
It is only now, many years later, that I realise the two are NOT mutually exclusive. This is clearly backed up by medical research and the ever increasing number of “brain games/exercises” available online and on mobile phones. Anatomically the brain is an organ but research has shown that mental stimulation helps the brain grow stronger thus reducing the risk of cognitive decline. In this way, many see the brain as a muscle and like a basketballer seeking to improve their jump shot, you need to exercise and practice.
As a writer, it is easy to want to wait for the perfect set of circumstances to write your story. The “right” time of day, the “right” amount of light in the room, the “right” feeling/mood to write, the “right” amount of inspiration to start putting words down on paper etc. I can guarantee you that this approach will only result in a lot of wasted time. You will end up procrastinating indefinitely for the perfect circumstances to arise and believe me it will never come. There will always be something that isn’t quite “right” and you’ll convince yourself to put off writing. Don’t listen to that voice.
To write when you don’t want to write is exactly like a marathon runner going for a run when they don’t feel like running. To exercise, to train, to push yourself through the barrier is what will make you stronger and if you happen to be one seeking to create then that type of exercising, that type of training starts with your brain.
As an example, I’ll give you one of my own personal experiences. As a father of three little kids, all of whom at the time of writing this blog have not even reached their high schools years, they challenge me every day NOT to write. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, I want to nurture, encourage and play with them, help them with their homework, take them bike riding, to the park, to the beach but to balance that with my passion and desire for writing requires I put in the brain exercise even when I don’t want to. My youngest daughter is three years old and she often finds unique ways of disturbing me while I write. Asking for a cup of water, crawling up onto my chair and draping herself over my back and seeking my assistance to go to the toilet are just some of the ways she demands my attention. But like a soccer player dribbling the ball for one more lap, I’ll write through the distractions. Even if what I write turns out to be rubbish or needs rework, I’ll get it down. I set aside a minimum amount of time every day to write, even if the circumstances are far from ideal.
And the best thing (and this is often what people lose sight of) is that when I push myself through it at the end I feel incredible. It might just be a draft, a paragraph that needs serious editing, a page that is filled with random ideas but the effort put in yields rewards. It’s the same with physical exercise, you go for a jog even when you don’t feel like it but afterwards you feel better for it.
The brain is an organ? Okay. But it is also the muscle of thinking, the muscle of creativity. If you’re seeking a creative pursuit, keep this in mind the next time you’re waiting for the perfect circumstances to arise before exercising your brain.