"How Environment Can Boost Creativity" is interesting, once you make your way past the blizzard of popups that The Atlantic has taken to hurling between its articles and the public.
Apparently a messy desk can help (check), dim lighting (check, though not dim by choice), and a little noise:
Evidence also supports the habits of people who eschew a desk altogether, instead opting to work in a coffee shop. A little bit of ambient noise (between 50 and 70 decibels—the average noise level of a coffee shop) slightly disrupts the mental process, which one study showed to help people engage in more abstract thinking during a word-association task.This explains why so many people write in coffee shops, maybe, and why I ought to give it a try. But I play music to drown out the voices within; does that count?
You can even listen to coffee shop sounds on your computer, if you want to: https://coffitivity.com/
And more interesting points:
Though few people actually do it anymore, writing by hand can help with idea generation, learning, and memorization.
Other studies have shown that taking walks, or working in rooms with high ceilings, can promote divergent or abstract thinking.
Another tip: Get a little tipsy.Handwriting: will try it again. Walks: absolutely. Rooms with high ceilings: is this the library effect? And a little tipsy? How about if you reach for a Diet Coke instead, even if wine is probably better for you?
What about coffee itself? Just as I was about to try to learn to drink coffee because of all the health benefits, we were told that it might hamper creativity.
The New Yorker reviews the research and concludes, "Yup, afraid so," whereas The Atlantic, in a deep state of denial and perhaps dizzy from all the popups, says, "Nah, don't worry about it. Next to Adderall, it's the best thing we've got."
There's also a creativity search engine, Yossarian, from "I tried to make a search engine write me a poem" at NYTimes. I didn't try it, because you have to create an account and log in, and I do not need one more password to write down.
I calculate that I spend at least 15 minutes a week tending passwords--looking them up in a book I have, since every one is a precious unique snowflake, as we are told to make them; having password reminders sent and then trying to remember the passwords for the email account where I have the reminders sent, and so on.
Now we're being told that maybe depression is related to creativity or at least deep problem-solving behaviors. "What if We're Wrong about Depression?" suggests a physiological basis related to infection and a possibly adaptive evolutionary purpose, which the ubiquitous brain science writer Maria Popova puts in context over at BrainPickings. No one would ever, ever choose this as a strategy for creativity, but it helps to have another way to think about this debilitating problem.
But maybe the best strategy is Rachel Toor's "The Habits of Highly Productive Writers." It's a great piece of writing inspiration. She advises that a little self-hatred if you don't get your writing done can go a long way toward getting it out the door and that yes, you can get bored with your own writing midway through.
I'm not so sure about Toor's friend who has "trained his family" that he can ignore them because his writing is more important, though. Maybe he's Faulkner, who said the same thing, or maybe he's just this guy. He'd better be pretty darned sure that his writing is worth it, and unless he's Faulkner, I doubt that it is.
On writing by hand, I have been contemplating writing an article entirely by hand, start to finish, the old-fashioned way, and blogging or writing a companion-article about the process.
One problem is that I have so many projects on my list that are already started on the computer. I'd really like to start from scratch for this idea.
I swear by writing by hand. It's how I get myself unstuck -- even for nonwriting projects, if I get stuck, I'll put out a notebook and write out what I'm thinking about. Longhand writing for me just works best for problemsolving. I keep a notebook for each project that I scribble in when I'm stuck, away from a computer, or just want to write by hand. Since I've kept longhand journals since I was a teenager, this has just always made sense to me. I still have the individual-chapter notebooks from my dissertation.
Dame Eleanor, Sophylou--I'm going to give handwriting in a notebook a try again after reading what you said. I don't think I could write a whole article that way, though. I learned to type at about 14 and it seems more natural now.
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