What Goes on Inside A Creative Mind?
The neuroscience of creativity.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” — Steve Jobs
I remember my first time.
You know how every villain has their origin story? Whether it was Killmonger’s need for revenge following his father’s death and family exile or the Green Goblin with his dissociative disorder gone wrong in his lab or Loki just being…well Loki.
I think every artist has theirs as well.
I certainly do.
I vividly remember how I stumbled into the world of words. I was 10 and had just read Supergirl (the story of Superman’s cousin). At the risk of being dramatic, it was like being transported to a different world.
Where had words been all my life?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll share more of my journey further down.
First things first, how does creativity work in the brain?
What happens in the brain when we create?
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact place where creativity originates in the brain. But if scientists absolutely had to pick one, it would be the frontal cortex.
Yet it’s not that straightforward.
After all, our different senses come into play when it comes to being creative. For example, in some, the visual cortex at the occiput (the “back”) is a strong point.
In her book, Professor Abraham discusses frameworks within the brain that are responsible for creativity.
Although with its limitations, one such popular framework is The Default Mode Network vs the Central Executive Network.
The Default Mode is a network of brain regions that becomes active when we’re more focused internally (often at rest), away from the outside world.
On the other hand, the Central Executive Network is responsible for cognitive tasks such as thinking, memory, and sensory information.
Which do you think might be more pronounced in a creative mind?
Here’s the catch:
It’s not necessarily that one is more abundant than the other.
These networks simply communicate more.
So, is there hope?
Can we simply learn to be more creative?
How to become more creative
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” — Chuck Close
Now I know what you’re thinking.
Some of us just don’t have a creative bone in our bodies.
Maybe. Maybe not.
But there are ways we can help, especially with our Default Mode Network.
Take a walk/run. There’s something so freeing about being out that a) broadens your mind & b) makes real-life worries vanish for a brief moment.
Take a nap. There’s a lot of brainwork that goes in the background while we sleep. This helps with creativity by strengthening neural connections.
Take a (long) shower. YKTV.
Stare. Whether it’s at the clouds or your ceiling, boredom can be your biggest creativity ally. Why do we run from it?
And perhaps my biggest tip:
Listen to your environment. Pay attention — to people, places, sounds, things.
My creativity origin story & theory
This is what I think:
Humans are inherently creative.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never drawn, painted, or written anything a day in your life.
But somewhere along the line, we let it go. And this is because there’s no creativity without curiosity.
Why does y follow x? What happens if I reverse it instead? Or wait, what if I slant the y?
In his brilliant speech, Kleon proposes that we “steal like an artist”. Not in an attempt to plagiarise but as though learning how to trace a drawing.
Till one day, you can do it on your own.
“Creativity is really just a tool. (It) can be used to organise your living room, paint a masterpiece, build a program from scratch or design a weapon of mass destruction.”— Austin Kleon (an absolute fave).
And why not?
Right from infancy, we learn by imitation. It’s how we learn how to speak and how to walk and how to write and so on. Without imitation, the human race would stagnate.
When I started writing at the age of 11 years, I would imitate the authors I read and loved.
Stephen King. Mary Higgins Clark. RL Stine.
I would observe how many words made a page, how many pages made up a chapter, and eventually, how many chapters made a book.
And because a lot of the authors I loved wrote mystery or thrillers, I naturally did the same.
I have since gone on to experiment with poetry, (flash) fiction, and now, non-fiction.
And that’s my precaution with imitation. To not stay there. Recognise it for what it is — a stepping stone. No more, no less.
Just as a child learns to ride a bicycle with her parents holding on, eventually they must let go.
Before you know it, maybe you’ll be Picasso.
*YKTV — you know the vibes.
Read last week’s essay on How to Think About Thinking here.