Thursday, December 9, 2010

On MY Creative Brain

JAN: Okay, I confess, I'm a little obsessed with this topic. Your Creative Brain by Shelley Carson is the fourth book I've read about creativity in less than two months and I've already ordered two more books on the topic.


Well, because I want to be a better writer, and this topic addresses that goal from the inside out. The testing and exercises in Your Creative Brain have helped me develop new pre and post writing rituals. Little did I know that it would also help me explain the annoying ticks in my personality.

As you know from yesterday's interview with Shelley, the book uses a model of seven brainsets which help explain brain function. Following the acronym CREATES, they are: Connects (the part of the brain that makes associations and comes up with multiple solutions), Reason (the executive of the brain that most people generally think of as their "brain'" and that mostly rules the roost), Envision (the visual thinker that allows you to "see" in your minds eye and imagine) Absorb (the open, inquisitive part of the brain always seeking new experience and knowledge) Transform (the part of the brain that allows you to transform negative energy into positives or great works of art) Evaluate (the part of the brain that consciously judges the value of ideas, concepts, other individuals -- the editor) and Streams (the part of the brain that's working when you are "in the zone" and performing at a high level without conscious thought.)

The book offers two ways to figure out which brainset you favor, and also determines if you are more deliberate thinker or a more spontaneous thinker. One set of questions asks you about your mental processes, the second set of questions tests how your brain works. The scores of both my tests indicated the same results - more or less.

In the self-evaluative test, I had obvious leanings, but a somewhat even response. The highest marks (9) were tied in the Absorb and Connects brainsets, but I also had decent showing in the Reason, and Envision (7 each) brainsets. My scores on Transform (5) and Evaluate (4) were fairly low. I was more of a spontaneous thinker (12), but still a respectable deliberate thinker (7).

The results of the second test were a bit more extreme. I was still the highest showing in Absorb, Envision and Connects brainsets, but had no score at all in Reason, (remember that's the executive that is supposed to be running things) Transform, and Evaluate. I was off the charts spontaneous thinker, and I had a decent score in Streams, which means I can get in the Zone (a plus in my tennis game.) But I scored a complete ZERO in deliberate thinking.

What does this mean?? Well, it explains why I sometimes write lists, but then completely ignore them, why I tend to resist organization and planning, and forget stuff everywhere. Why I often need to leave my computer and go take a walk outside to solve my writing problems. Why I get bored so easily and have to make things harder for myself to stay engaged, and why I find it not just difficult but excruciating to write a murder mystery a year -- I really, truly need the time when I write for the ideas to gestate.

I realize this is just a model and not the absolute last word in brain processing, but hey, it helps me justify, or at least EXPLAIN a lot of my bad behaviors. It made me feel a lot less lazy, if maybe just a teeny-bit developmentally delayed.

But it also helped me understand that I'm pretty creative. And why one day during a yoga class, an entire novel, characters, plot and setting came to me fully formed. Where I used to think those writers who talked about the story just "typing itself" were lying, now I think that if I just set things up a bit better -- that could happen to me.

So here are some of the exercises from the book that I've turned into writing rituals:

From the Absorb brainset exercises: I've been meditating every day for about the last six years anyway, but now I've added this exercise to my regimen. I spend the last five minutes of my meditation this way: First I focus on the visual experience, looking for all the colors in the room, the differences in shading, the artificial and/or natural light. All the many angles in the room, the patterns, any movement. Next the audible: I focus on all the sounds in the room; my own breath, the dog's breath, the heat clanging in pipes. Then anything in the distance - birds, I love the sound of birds - my husband upstairs on the phone. The squeak of his chair. On to textures: The feel of my hands on my lap, the rug underneath me. The cold air in the living room. Odors: Hopefully no bad ones, but there's always the dog!! The smell of laundry detergent on my shirt, coffee perking in the kitchen. Taste? That one I usually reserve until breakfast, but sometimes I'll taste the salt on my skin.

What it does, or what I hope it does: For one thing, it puts me in an exceptionally good mood, probably because this is the brainset I prefer anyway. But I notice that it has also made me more observant other times -- I'll do this in the gym instead of watching TV while I'm on the treadmill. I do it in the doctor's waiting offices, the woods where I walk, and at the beach.(I stunned my husband by stopping our walk to caress a huge piece of driftwood someone had staked into the sand) I figure when I have to write scenes in those settings, I'll be way better armed with sensory details.

I've also started doing this when I'm eating a meal, really focusing on individual tastes which makes me slow down in eating. Supposedly this will make me eat less, but that's not a writing thing.

In another exercise, I take advantage of the increased alpha wave activity in my prefrontal lobes after I work out. BEFORE I got to my yoga or pilates class, or BEFORE I go for a three mile walk, I go over my most recent written work, scene, chapter, synoposis, whatever, and think about a problem I need to solve.

In another variation of taking advantage of different brainwaves concept, I now do the same thing before I meditate, and before I go to sleep at night.(Interesting note: One reader on Jungle Red put in the comments page that she thought about her plot or character problem right before she went to bed at night and in the morning the problem was always solved.)

What it does, or what I hope it does: This is supposed to help me access my absorb brainset better. Once I get back to work, either after exercise, meditation or a good night's sleep, I'm hoping the solution is clear.

From the Envision brainset exercises: Now, before I start any scene, I sit at the computer and close my eyes. I don't just envision the room, I envision it with the details suggested. This means slowly and deliberately, taking in one wall of the room at a time. What's on the wall. Where are the windows. Where do the wall and ceiling connect? What color is the room? Where exactly is the furniture and how much space is there between the chair and the desk? I spend a good five minutes doing this, even if the scene is minor.

What this does or what I hope it does: This is especially important for me because I tend to have problems physically locating my characters in the room. That's because my natural tendency is to start with what the characters are feeling or saying and working outward. As result, I sometimes have characters traverse space in a way that is physically impossible. I'm hoping this helps me ground my characters better in the scene.

From the Reasons brainsets exercises: As Shelley noted,I was jumping in enthusiastically and doing all the exercises in the brainsets I already favored, but shunning the exercises in brainsets I typically liked to avoid. So I MADE myself do this first one: Conscious Control of Thought and Thought-Stopping. I thought this might be useful when I want to divert myself from a difficult writing problem to check my email instead.

I found my index cards and as instructed, wrote verbal commands to myself on one side and visual commands to myself on the other. For example, one index card says "Distractions Cost Creativity," and on the other side I wrote EMAIL inside a circle with a slash through it -- the universal symbol for DON'T DO IT. On another card I wrote, "You can do it, stay on task," and on the other side I drew a stop sign. Another card says "This is Not THAT boring," and on the other side I wrote Negative Thought inside a circle with a slash through it. My last card says: "Don't delay, just start writing," and on the other side I wrote in bold letters. LAGGARD.

What this does, or what I hope it does: This is supposed to help me identify my distracting thoughts as they pop up and BEFORE I get up to go to the kitchen to get more tea. I keep these index cards right next to my computer and hope to use them when I am stuck on a problem and just dying to do anything else.

From the Reason brainsets exercises: I actually forced myself to write out a short term and doable goal on a piece of paper: Finish final draft of the Devil In Waverley novel by January 1. I did not, however, break it into smaller goals. I can only stand so much planning.

But to compensate, I'm planning on doing number #5, which involves researching a topic on the Internet, while not allowing yourself to stray off topic and click through to something else for even a minute. I do this anyway for journalistic research (except for the part where I don't stray), but plan on a formal application of the exercise by researching my favorite topic "creativity," on the web.

For anyone who wants to learn more or take a brain test, go to, I'd love for anyone or everyone to come report your results and possible strategies here.

Really high scores on


  1. After yesterday's blog, I went over to Shelley's website and took the test. (I didn't see a second test?) Anyway--I scored highest on reason and connects. The rest of my scores were evenly distributed except I had zero in "Streams," which concerned me. I think the problem there is that in order to "stream" you have to have sufficient time to "get into the zone," and I rarely have that undivided time, devoted just to writing. It's a constant frustration.

  2. I admire your devotion to this, Jan. And for organizing all those exercises. I'm going to print out your post and see if I can put a few into action, myself.

    I took the test and got pretty much total FAIL in Transform and Stream. Jeez! I don't like to get zeroes as grades. My Deliberate and Spontaneous are almost equal, though. I' guess I'll have to get the book to see how I can work on streaming and transforming a bit more.


  3. Hi E.B.
    I think the second test may only be in the book. But congrats on your high reason and connects score -- seems like that combination would be handy in problem solving.

    I failed Transform, too. Which means we better not get bummed out......


  4. So fascintating! Jan, tell me what this means--I'm really high in connect, reason and absorb. But got a 1 in Transform.

    Deliberate and spontaneous: 12 and 11.

  5. Oh, and a zero in stream. Ah. I get it. I'm hyper and over analytical.

    No, you're KIDDING me...

  6. And it means Edith and I are the same person. Well, that's nice at least.

  7. Hank,
    To be honest, I think these are just the brainsets we favor, and a zero score in anything might just be the test,

    But I think it means that while you are both analytical and creative, maybe you shouldn't play sports.

    (I'm kidding here. You are a performer, I'd bet money that you are e streaming when you are doing that!)

  8. Or maybe Hank and I answered the questions funny (not that I mind being the same person as her!). There were several I could have answered either way, honestly. So I just picked one.

  9. The book says something about the second test being a truer indicator because the first test is mostly self evaluative. (which is why my results were a little scary)

    And as Edith says, sometimes you just have to pick one answer, when you really you could have chosen two.


  10. I got higher scores in Connect (9), Reason (7), Envision (7), Absorb (7), and low in Transform (1), Evaluate (3), and Stream (0). My Pathways are equal which Shelly said yesterday was a good thing. So, I guess I’m there with Hank even if I never thought of myself as hyper, analytical, yeah kind of.

    I’m thinking I need to check this book out.

  11. Nice! I like your blog! It's relevant and informative! Keep posting! Good luck to you and more power.

  12. Hank and I had exactly the same scores. Hmmm. Meant to be buddies:-) Or maybe this is the writers' brainset...

  13. Hi Leevan,

    Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoy the blog, please come back often!!

    Deborah - I admire you equally-balanced brain people.


  14. Thanks for showing us how you are using results from Shelley's test to come up with a personalized improvement plan. I'm going to get the book and try to do the same. Got a zero on the Stream brainset, so I'll be very interested in reading about what that means.