Where the ideas flow

On writing inspiration by Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells

I do some of my best work in the shower. Sometimes, after wrestling at the computer for hours, I turn on the tap and, within a minute or two of that water flowing over me, so too do the words and ideas. It’s often where everything falls into place. Suddenly I can solve problems, structure logical arguments, and germinate new and exciting ideas.

Why the shower? I’d been aware of its fount-of-wisdom properties for some time but never thought about the reason ­until I heard it mentioned in a webinar (it’s obvious, really): in the shower I relax.

And this affects my brain’s capacity for creativity. Here’s a highly simplified explanation of why: when I’m anxious or stressed, resources are diverted to the more primitive region of my brain – the area responsible, among other things, for the fight-or-flight response, hunger, and basic functions like breathing: in short, the region that is going to save my life in a dangerous situation.

The resources are diverted away from the most advanced part of my brain, the neocortex (sometimes called the “human” brain, as it’s the area responsible for language and abstract thought), which then shuts itself down – not so helpful when I’m stressed about a writing deadline, rather than a tiger.

When I’m relaxed, my “human brain” is well resourced and in control. I’m capable of complex thought and problem solving, and in my creative element.

Some people thrive on stress – indeed, I count myself among those for whom the pressure of a deadline gets the creative juices flowing. But there’s a happy medium: I’ve learned that I work better when the deadline allows space for time out and reflection. I find same-day deadlines stressful. I can do them, but I don’t enjoy them.

My preferred strategy is to build in time to “sleep on it”. I am more relaxed knowing that my subconscious will help me refine whatever I’m working on; that I can come back to it next day with more clarity, able to stand back and notice where a phrase isn’t working, where a point isn’t clear, or where I can weed out excess words to improve readability.

Inevitably, though, there are times when I’m under more pressure than I’d like. One of the best things I can do then is take a shower. Or go for a walk or bike ride. But, really, anything that gets me away from the screen and lets my subconscious take over – even just a trip to the loo – can work as well. Like the shower, it’s when the ideas flow.

May your words pour onto the page,

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