Within your mind, sits a drunken monkey who constantly chatters idea after idea. This is what we artists have to cope with while settling down to compose or write. Buddha espoused the idea of our heads being filled with garrulous primates. Author Guy Claxton calls these rapid thoughts the act of our hare brain. The internal rabbit that digs and digs, even if it ends up being in the wrong spot. The goal is to slow down when you create and embrace the tortoise mind.
Chase Your Distracting Thoughts Away
Some writers or artists simply have the envious ability to shut out the external world and begin creating straight away. But if you’re not one of those lucky ilk, you’ll have to chase away those rabbit thoughts that plague your brain.
Here’s the situation. You sit down for a good creative jaunt and suddenly, you remember that you need to answer that text message. Or perhaps there’s that chore around the house you need to do. Then come the parade of thoughts, doubts, and wonderings. Don’t worry, we all go through this.
Uncluttering your brain before creating is quite a bit like settling in to meditate. One trick you can do is to jot down as many of these thoughts as you can to simply unload them from your mind.
The next step involves patience. You need to give your creative mind to get going. Tortoises take a long time to get anywhere. But the longer you sit and wait, the more your mind calms and your thoughts begin to wander. You are ready to create.
Remind Yourself of Your Goal
Sometimes when you are in this meditative state, your mind might wander too far and veer away from the project you’re working on. In this case, write down the key idea for the scene or illustration. Then place this front and center where you can’t miss it. The key idea will serve to center your mind around the goal you want to achieve.
Embrace the Oddness of the Moment
The ideas generated by this kind of slow, meditative thinking are akin to dreaming. It’s a playful and leisurely way to contemplate a problem.
You may discover that odd and seemingly off-topic ideas pop into your brain. They may not make very much sense. That’s because your logical side of your brain (the hare that hops in all directions but never gets anywhere) has been shut down.
The logical side typically presents its ideas as cohesive thoughts, easy to understand. But the slower, tortoise brain pulls from your unconscious. You receive images and feelings.
In John Cleese’s book Creativity he gives a perfect example of this process from German organic chemist, August Kekule: Once, late at night, he was sitting, staring into the fire. As he gazed, the flames started to look like snakes biting their own tails. In his half-asleep state, it occurred to him that the snake biting its own tail was a ring, and so too was the structure of the benzene molecule.
Partake in a Calming Activity
One trick to loosening the reins of the logical “hare” brain is to do an activity that mellows your mind. Staring at the fire or looking out the window can work well, so long as you don’t fall asleep. You might also consider taking a long walk or car drive. Make this trip without any key destination in mind or if you are going someplace, take the scenic route. You can prime your brain with that key idea from before. This is like a key that can unlock your subconscious and allow those amorphous thoughts and feelings to flow free.
Often as artists we get ourselves stuck, digging at the same hole over and over again. Our only progress is going deeper. Taking a step back and slowing down can unlock a more creative portion of our brain. Go on, give it a try.