Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Secrets of Kidlit: Downtime

Nearly every day, I see a writer or two agonize over how little work they've gotten done, or comment on how they should be working, but for some reason they're main-lining Netflix instead. Sometimes, life makes it impossible to put in the writing hours--pipes explode, kids barf, jobs go up in flames--but other times, you don't work even though you COULD--a big dirty secret many of us share.

What is that? Why does that happen, often right when you NEED to figure stuff out?

In short, it's called downtime.

Your unconscious mind plays a key role in forming creative insights, only you can't actively USE this part of your brain. During downtime, the unconscious mind spontaneously organizes and reorganizes itself, forming connections and associations that aid you when you attempt to solve a problem. Without downtime, the unconscious mind cannot recharge. So basically, you really DO need to watch The Vampire Diaries to figure out your book.

The science on this stuff is actually pretty fascinating.

Creativity is defined as having a capacity for achieving a high level of divergent thinking.

In other words, when you are creative, you can generate alternatives to any given problem. Convergent thinking is what then allows you to select the most optimal solution, as you're focusing on one set answer. But without that first creative bit, you won't have much to choose from.

John Cleese famously described creativity as a tolerance for problem solving. I think he was right on it. In fact, I push this video on everyone I meet, because it's just that good. You will find yourself nodding and nodding and wanting to give Mr. Cleese a big 'ole kiss.

Thanks for being so awesome, Mr. Cleese!

The creative process moves through stages.

It begins with preparation, a time when the basic information or skills are assembled. It continues on to incubation, a relaxed time when you don't work consciously to solve the problem, but when connections are unconsciously being made. THIS is when you randomly need to re-read your favorite novel AGAIN. THIS is when you suddenly MUST watch the new season of House of Cards. Your brain is seeking out answers. It is filling the unconscious well, so that you can make new, amazing connections in your work.

This then leads eventually to inspiration, the eureka experience when you suddenly see the solution! Whee! It's easy to value this part of the process. We can see the payoff. We feel the rush, we jump and dance and shriek our thanks at the sky. If we could all live here forever, we would...but it's not possible. You need your downtime to feed into your eurekas.

Finally, the creative process ends with production, a time when the insights are put into a useful form. The specifics of this basic process will vary depending on the type of creativity; writing a novel is different from identifying a new chemical synthesis. But the basic process and principles are the same across many different types of creativity.

These are not new ideas.

Archimedes reputedly figured all of this out a very long time ago. When his moment of inspiration struck regarding density (while getting into the bath, naturally), he jumped up and shouted, "Eureka!" That's Greek for, "I've found it!" Then he ran out of the house buck naked because he was so excited about what he'd figured out. From then on, he swore that taking baths was an essential part of his creative process. Because it was--and it IS.

That's the biggest secret of all. Even when you're taking a little downtime, you're actually getting work done, too. Neat, right?

What are your favorite indulgences for refilling the creative well? Tell me in the comments!


  1. The video is great- I agree that being interrupted throws me off. Thank you for the happy justification of slacking off!

    1. I've watched that video a dozen times and it never gets old!

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  3. Great post. I needed this. Thank you!

    1. I think we all *know* this, but sometimes we need permission to believe in it again. :)

  4. Thanks, Melanie! When it's above freezing, I recharge by taking my dog for a walk. If it's below freezing, the sprints outside are an interruption. Either way, my dog is happy.


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