Recently, while listening to NPR on the way to work, I heard neuroscientist Dr. Charles Limb describe an experiment to map the creative process. An amateur musician himself, he placed a series of jazz pianists in an MRI machine, gave them a non-magnetic keyboard and earphones, and watched their brains as they improvised music.
One detail in particular made me happy: He said that during the creative process, the critiquing portions of the prefrontal lobe were quiet, while playful parts of the brain went to work. As one pianist told him, you have to be willing to make mistakes before you can get in "the zone."
This matches something UpWrite Press has been teaching for years about writing: The early stages should be about generating ideas and copy without worrying about grammar and spelling. Editing for correctness can come later.
The fact that creativity and critique cannot work simultaneously is something visual artists have long understood. That's why they make a sketch before tackling a project. It's also why poets "invoke the muse" (begging for inspiration) before beginning to versify.
For more evidence of the need to separate creative time from critiquing time, I'd point to Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson's recent article, "Why Letting Yourself Make Mistakes Means Making Fewer of Them," on the Psychology Today Web site. She says, "Give yourself permission to screw-up. Start any new project by saying 'I'm not going to be good at this right away, I'm going to make mistakes, and that's okay.'"
Are you convinced yet? Have you tried drafting without critiquing first? Or does something different work for you? If you have a secret for getting the writing ball rolling, we'd love to hear it!
- Lester Smith