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Creativity: Getting Out of Your Own Way

By on Tuesday, Nov 27, 2012 in Creativity on NPR. Creativity, Writing Life | 2 comments

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As a writer, don’t you think about creativity a lot? What is it, what enhances it? And, most importantly, HOW DO I TURN THIS @#!*$% INTERNAL EDITOR OFF INSIDE MY OWN HEAD??

This weekend I heard a really interesting piece on NPR on creativity from the show Studio 360. You can listen to all the segments at


In the segment “The Neuroscience of Jazz,” Dr. Charles Limb, professor of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins, studied functional MRI studies of muscians’ brains as they they played piano. During a very creative task (jazz improvisation), certain areas of the prefrontal cortex lit up red–hot spots–and others lit up blue–cold spots. The self expressive areas were “hot” (areas of active blood flow) and the deactiviated areas–areas of conscious self-monitoring–had less blood flow.

Basically, the areas of self expression were full of activity, while the other areas were actually “turned off” areas.

This might be the neural signature of creativity–the self-expressive areas are turned up, and the inhibitory areas are turned down–so this might be you getting out of your own way.

In other words, creativity occurs WHEN YOU GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY.

So how do we accomplish this difficult feat? Everyone has different ways of helping themselves get “in the zone” so we can create those stories, build those worlds, experience our characters practically as real people. Coffee, music, or just writing as fast as you can so the editor can’t catch up to you are a few ways.

Another segment of this program called “Enhancing Creativity” talked about when we get good at things, we do multiple tasks at once. In writing, this can be getting the creative ideas down, as well as putting them down in a grammatically and structurally correct way. With practice, practice, practice, creative tasks can get easier.

Are children more creative? Does creativity get whipped out of us as we age and go through the drudgery of school? It is true that 5 year olds are less inhibited and explore ideas more–but they often don’t have the skill set to bring their ideas to frution.

So, what ways do you use to get your muse up and running and that nasty internal editor to stop talking? How do you get out of your own way?

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