And here's the odd thing: I was in that writing "zone" and every few lines, when I was a little stuck I went to play a turn on Scrabulous - and I finished the whole flash story, 300 words. And more than that: I felt that playing Scrabulous actually helped me finish the story. As I wandered home, I pondered about how that could be: it seemed as though the game distracted those demons in my head that start niggling about how the story's not working, how bad it's going to be, how I might as well stop. They were so busy trying to win the Scrabble game, they left me alone to write my story.
Could this be? Well, a day later, yesterday, I opened my new copy of the New Yorker and lo and behold, a fascinating article entitled: The Annals of Science: The Eureka Hunt by Jonah Lehrer. This article is about scientific research attempting to uncover the mechanism behind that eureka moment of insight, where you have been trying and trying to solve something, and then, suddenly, after you've stopping thinking about it, you're doing something else - there it is!
While it is commonly assured that the best way to solve a problem is to focus, minimize distractions, and pay attention only to the relevant details, this clenched state of mind may inhibit the sort of creative connections that lead to sudden breakthroughs. We surpress the very type of brain activity we should be encouraging. (My italics)This is all about left hemisphere of the brain versus right hemisphere - one side (left) focuses on individual details while the other side is the "big picture" side, the side which can make unusual and surprising connections. And it seems that when we are focussed on the problem at hand, it is our left brain which is working. What should we do instead? Relax, say the researchers:
Schooler's research has also led him to reconsider the bad reputation of letting one's mind wander. Although we often complain that the brain is too easily distracted, Schooler believes that letting the mind wander is essential. "Just look at the history of science," he says. "The big ideas seem to always come when people are side-tracked, when they're doing something that has nothing to do with their research." He cites the example of Henri Poincare, the 19th century mathematician, whose seminal insight into non-Euclidean geometry arrived while he was boarding a bus.My assertion is that creative writing requires the same kind of insight process at each step of writing a story. You know that feeling that if you "make" the story continue, if you think about it with your "rational" mind, something feels forced, not right. And just was with scientific problems, I now believe that letting one's mind wander while in the writing zone might really prove to be helpful. I see it as looking at the "problem" (where does the story go from here?) from the side, out of the corner of your eye, while doing something else, instead of staring and staring at it.
Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity. "There's a good reason why Google puts ping-pong tables in their headquarters," Kounios said. "If you want to encourage insight, they you've also got to encourage people to relax."