Feeling washed up? Creative energy in the tubes? Most creatives will occasionally experience feelings like these. In its extreme form, writers, prone to neurotic narcissism such as we are, call the symptoms “writer’s block.” Fortunately, neuroscience has found a cure. Behold, the power of the shower.
Writing Exercise: Give Your Prose the Hose
Dave Eggers was three years into writing his novel What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng when he decided to quit. For the tenth time. Based on the real-life experiences of a Sudanese refugee who was among the millions of children orphaned during the The Second Sudanese Civil War, the tale was rife with challenges. Even the talented Eggers began to feel the project was insurmountable. Finally, after sequestering himself in a Bodega Bay bungalow, Eggers attempted to conquer the uncompleted novel – or quit. He chose the latter, which, with a little moisture, turned out to be just what the book needed.
As Eggers recently recounted to the Commonwealth Club of California, finally freed of the burdensome book he took a celebratory bike ride, came home and hopped into the shower. Then, under the warm water pulsing from the showerhead, Eggers suddenly understood how to best approach the book, which was eventually published to critical acclaim.
Writing Prompt Idea: Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
Eggers was not the first to find his writer’s block washed away by the warm embrace of raining water. Jonah Lehrer, author of excellent new tome on creativity, Imagine: How Creativity Works, cites several examples of how a warm shower can cleanse both the body and mind. The key is relaxation according to psychologist Joydeep Bhattacharya of Goldsmiths, University of London:
Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease – when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain – we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,” Bhattacharya says. “For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.” It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along – we just weren’t listening.
Creative Thinking: Slippery When Wet
In fact, taking a shower tops Lehrer’s list of ways to boost one’s creativity as quoted in Co.CREATE:
LEHRER’S TIPS: 3 WAYS TO BOOST YOUR OWN CREATIVITY
- Take a long shower. Play-Ping pong. Relax. The best ideas often arrive only after we stop searching for them.
- Diversify your social network. Talk to people who think differently than you.
- Become an outsider. Don’t be afraid to work on problems that you are less familiar with.
Bay Area-based tech blogger Anthony Garcia raises an interesting observation regarding this “inspiration hack.” What do you do when inspiration strikes and you have neither pen nor paper in the shower caddy? “You could have a pen and paper handy within arms reach from the shower but you run the risk of water damaging those notes…unless you have Crayola Bathup Markers.”
A cheeky solution but effective nonetheless as it turns your shower into a veritable whiteboard. Just be careful with the showerhead, lest you spray the wall and send your hard-won insight literally down the drain (like these plumbing puns).
If somehow, you’ve forgotten how to take a shower, WikiHow offers its 15-step manual “How to Take a Shower.” Try avoid doing it like this: