(Suggested album to listen to while or after reading this article: When we all fall asleep, where do we go?, by prodigy creative soul, Billie Eilish.)
As a writer, creative block is not a new concept to me. When having ideas is part of your job description, the common misconception that “creativity is a God-given gift” can dissipate very fast. Even if you are naturally predisposed to sensitivity and imagination, creativity is a skill that, like any other, can and should be worked at to become better.
The other day as I unintentionally procrastinated my way through the hours leading up to a very important deadline, I came across a concept that I had never heard of; something the deep depths of the internet called the “Three B’s of creativity”. The concept is credited to Austrian-British early 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, a professor at the University of Cambridge who observed that people’s thinking, creativity, and ability to generate innovative ideas are intensified when they are relaxed. From this thought, the “Three B’s” – bed, bath and bus – were created.
During the day we work our brains to exhaustion searching for solutions to our most challenging problems, but sometimes that “eureka” moment we are desperately seeking doesn’t turn up. According to Wittgenstein’s line of thought, sometimes the good ideas that have been brewing inside of your head during your working day may be fully developed and ready to come out once you’ve hit the breaks and are having some downtime. Hence, his “Three B’s” – sleeping, showering, commuting.
The idea of getting a hold of your most brilliant thoughts while being unconscious took me back to my university days when my Psychology professor gave me an assignment. For three months, I was to keep a notepad by my bedside table and, at dawn, write down my dreams as soon as I opened my eyes; before doing absolutely anything else.
At the beginning of the three months, my 18-year-old self was having some trouble understanding the point in writing down dreams that most of the time were senseless imagery. Still, soon I started to see a pattern in my subconscious mind that not only surprised me but also amazed me. I began to notice that my dreams connected in different ways, as they did to the things I was experiencing during my conscious life.
The realisation of the volume of thoughts I had in my sleep gave me a glimpse to how much of my brain activity I had no idea existed, or mattered. Understanding that my biology works in spite of me, in a way, stripped me of my creative ego and, not surprisingly, once I stopped thinking of myself as “a creative person”, I became more creative.
Photo: Annie Spratt
As the years went on, the notion that creativity is, above all, a survival instinct started to make sense to me. Humans are inherently creative; as long as we existed on this earth, we have used our creativity to innovate and survive.
Growing up during the rise of technology, and having worked in the tech field for over a decade, especially with artificial intelligence, have proven my earlier point: creativity can be taught; it can be worked at – after all, even machines can learn it. However, the fact that creativity is a skill that can be perfected does not take from us – thinking beings – the magic of the process and the beauty of the moment when a brilliant idea is born.
Inventiveness is a process that takes a long time because it requires a person to observe, to read, to smell, to eat, to feel sad, to be lonely, to hurt, to smile, to cry – you know – to live life. Methods and checklists to help a person achieve their creative genius are everywhere, but I believe that nothing beats a brain – and a heart, to please the poet in me – that is curious.
Living goddess, fierce feminist and tireless 80-something-year-old activist Jane Fonda once said (in some interview I watched when I should have been writing instead) that “It’s much more important to stay interested than to be interesting”. Her words marked my brain like an engravement; my lovely, warrior brain that grafts away the day so that my ideas can come to me at night.
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