This post was originally published more than 2 years ago, but I still go back to it. It reminds me how important it is to use the intuitive side of my brain in ALL parts of my life, but ESPECIALLY when writing. Since I just finished working with my writing coach–more on that soon–I thought it would appropriate to revisit this, which was inspired by my coach’s early encouragement for me to embrace intuition!
The Intuition Challenge
I shared yesterday that my writing coach challenged me to use the intuitive side of my mind for my first approach to problem-solving during the month of March, and how doing so has been challenging, educational, and surprisingly beneficial.
One unexpected benefit came by what I like to call the “red car” effect—the tendency to notice red cars (or anything else) the second you start thinking about them. By keeping the idea of intuition/right brain thinking top of my mind for the past month, I began to notice it more often. By noticing when my intuition was engaged, I was better able to take advantage of the insights it offered.
I also started to notice some of the approaches that helped me to engage the more intuitive side of my mind when writing, and thought I’d share them with you. Hope these are helpful!
Ways to Access the Unexpected
1. Don’t settle for your first idea.
When plotting a book or drafting a scene, often the first idea that pops into your head is the most obvious—which means it may be the first idea to pop into your reader’s mind as well. Although you don’t want to take this concept to the extreme (sometimes the bell ringing at the end of the school day really does mean that class is dismissed), simply asking yourself to consider options is a great way to spark a story insight.
2. Fish from a word pool.
Next time you feel stuck, pull a handful of random phrases from a “word pool”, a collection of evocative words and phrases that may trigger a creative leap.*
3. Engage your artistic side.
Kick off a writing session with a five minute freewrite inspired by an image. You can relate it to your work in progress or not—the point of this exercise is that it engages the intuitive part of your mind, priming it to help you out in your writing. Here are a few sources for amazing imagery to get you started.*
- The imaginative photography of H. Koppdelaney, such as the photos in this post
- Abstract art such as that featured on Laura’s First Church of Metaphor blog
- Illustrations such as those by Kiyomisa on DeviantArt.com (below)
4. Craft a collage.
This is a great exercise to do at the start of a project. Choose images that speak to you even if you don’t know why; arrange and rearrange; and don’t limit yourself to pictures, but consider adding fabric, stickers, pieces of tissue paper, feathers, plastic “jewels”—whatever catches your fancy and feels right.
5. Indulge your senses (mindfully).
Did you know that the sense of smell provides the most powerful link to memory of any of the senses? This phenomena, known as the Proust effect, can trigger memories and emotions to inspire your writing. Take a field trip to your local candle store, farmer’s market, botanical garden, or farm and sample smells for a direct connection to those nonverbal synapses.
6. Visit a dictionary of dream symbols.
Dream symbols are remarkably conserved across cultures and through history, which is why paging through a listing of dream symbols may bring up an image that resonates with the character or scene you’re working on. Revisiting your own dreams or exploring others’ can also evoke emotion or mood and help you access your writing in a more intuitive way.
7. Dream from a character’s point of view.
Approach this as a waking dream: freewrite using images your character might imagine, without trying to make sense. Consider warming up by writing out a dream you’ve actually had, to get the feel of how dreams progress, unconstrained by the normal rules of time and space. Need inspiration? Check out that dream dictionary in #5.
Collect a list of questions that might normally be used for character generation or as writing prompts, and scan through them until you find one that speaks to you. (Yep, I’m all about those touchy-feely intuition words in this post…) Write to it and see where it takes you.
9. Distract yourself.
We’ve talked about this before, but it bears another mention. After you’ve gone as far as you can using your analytical, logical approach, distract yourself with an activity that is repetitive and relaxing. Take a walk, take a shower, work on a puzzle, do yoga, meditate. In his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer reports that alpha waves are essential for creative insights. What generates those alpha waves? Relaxation. If you’re stressed and tense, you ain’t gonna make any great creative connections.
10. Read something completely unrelated.
Are you writing fantasy? Read some science news. Working on contemporary young adult fiction? Detour into a biography or how-to article. In Imagine (yes, I LOVE this book), Lehrer has a wonderful example of scientists doing research on creativity and insights. They gave their test subjects a difficult puzzle that could only be solved by intuition—an “ah-ha!” moment. The researchers found that they could increase the likelihood that test subjects could solve a particularly tricky puzzle by exposing them to a seemingly unrelated story. (I’d share more details, but I can’t find the darned spot in the book!) The point, though, is that when you take a break from one problem and explore other areas of the world, you leave room for your mind to draw parallels and construct solutions you wouldn’t be able to reach by logic alone.
* Huge thanks to Laura Deal for these fantastic ideas! Laura is an expert in accessing the intuitive side of the brain, both as a writer and as a certified dreamworker. Her book, Newcomer’s Guide to the Invisible Realm, provides lots of terrific information about intuition, symbols, dreams, and the mysterious world of the unconscious mind.
Your turn: What techniques do you use to spark creative connections and insights? Please share in the comments!