The other day I was lying in bed, about to fall asleep, when the perfect start to my novel just popped into my head. Now it has taken me ages to come up with something, so of course I got up and wrote it down, destroying any chances of a good night’s sleep in the process. But that’s a story for another blog.
In this post, I want to talk about these moments, in bed or in the shower or out on a walk (and always away from writing equipment), when things just pop into your head. Some call it a strike of inspiration, or their muse communicating with them, but really it is your brain working efficiently.
Since we can’t capture inspiration in a controlled experimental environment, there are a lot of things we still don’t know about what happens in the brain when we get inspired. So if anybody tells you they can ‘switch on’ creativity through brain stimulation, they’re trying to sell you something. What we do know through simplified experiments is that a lot of different brain areas need to be synced-up for inspiration to be able to strike. And I’m not talking about just the right hemisphere either, which is a common myth, I’m talking about areas all over the brain.
Scientists have hypothesised that the reason moments of inspiration occur when you’re away from your computer is due to the Default Mode Network. This network of brain areas becomes active while we’re at rest, so specifically while we’re not thinking about anything in particular. Like when we’re about to fall asleep. And since the network extends all over the brain, it is ideally suited for combining different types of processes and creating new connections. The result; inspiration instead of rest.
The most important thing to note is that inspiration does not occur in a vacuum. Inspiration relies on a lot of experience, expertise and active unconscious/semi-conscious processing. While the idea of a muse is appealing and can be helpful for visualisation, in reality inspiration is not the result of genius or divine intervention, but instead heavily dependent upon our own abilities. So the next time you’re wishing for inspiration to strike, just remember that inspiration (and your brain) needs something to work with, so keep working, thinking about writing (or whatever else you may want to do), practicing, and just going about your daily activities, because it’s the only way you might be able to open yourself up to ‘spontaneous’ inspiration.
Jack London said it best: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
NB: These views and thoughts are my own, creativity is not my particular area of expertise, so feel free to take everything with a pinch of salt.