Everybody runs on something. Cars run on fuel. Teenagers run on emotion. Track stars run on adrenaline, and artists, we run on inspiration. But what happens when you’re stuck in the uninspired territory? How do you keep going? How do you get unstuck? How do you find artistic inspiration and creativity?
There’s nothing better than being in that moment: the moment you write that perfect word, the word that leads to the star-struck chorus, which leads to the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for. And from the moment you wrote it down, you felt the tingling up the back of your neck. There’s nothing better in the world than finding your inspiration for creativity, right? But what happens when you lose it? What happens when you can feel yourself falling, and the words slip away from you? I’ve been there as a singer-songwriter and there’s nothing worse. I’ve been there as a business owner, a creativity consultant, a husband and a father. I’ve been in the stuck dimension before, and believe you me, there’s a way out. At Afton, we want to provide a few tips for when you’re feeling uninspired or stuck in the writing process. We’ve done our research and learned about the creative processes in the brain. We’ve put our resources together and compiled a list of suggestions on how to get those creativity juices flowing again.
The Right and Left Side of Creativity:
There’s a stigma associated with the left side of the brain, that it’s too analytical, logical and business like, that it has nothing to do with our creative processing. If the left side of your brain went to a party, he’d be the one wearing a full suit and tie, standing in the corner, writing an email to his boss. The Right side of the brain is the creative one; he thinks outside the box. If the right side of your brain went to a party, he’d be the one lighting the banister on fire and sliding down stairs on the snowboard. Neuroscience research has shown the idea above is a pretty outdated one.
According to research studies from the Scientific American, neuroscientists have recently discovered that the whole brain takes part in the creative process. Cognition involves “large scale networks.” The Dorsal Attention Network (DAN), (located between the frontal eyes) deals with visual spacing/images/ how to make things fit. In song writing that could include: lyrics, beats, word syllables, rhyming, spacing out the line of a chorus etc. The Executive Network (EN) (outer regions of the frontal cortex and towards back of brain) focuses on challenging details, problem solving, reasoning and memory. In song writing, this could include: the melody, the context of the song, reason for writing the song itself, how to express the message behind the song. And lastly, there is the Imaginative Network (IMN), which is located in the prefrontal cortex and Temporal lobe. The imaginative Network specializes in social cognition. How will others react when… What are my personal experiences with… The imaginative Network is like the person at the party who has a PhD in Philosophy and is the one engaging in deep discussion on the couch with a platter of special brownies. So, what’s the point?
The whole brain takes part in the creative process. Your whole brain has to be present, not just a part. As a songwriter, it’s important to be aware that different parts of your brain have a part to play in your creativity. You have to be willing to create a space for your whole brain to participate. It’s important to know that these brain networks will play larger roles at different times.
Science suggests that if you’re stuck in the creative process, especially in songwriting, it’s important to let go of the Executive Network and start out in the “imaginative network.” Some artists call this the state of flow. The creative process is like a river: you can either ford your way upstream against the current, or lay on your back and let the ride happen, but there’s a balance to it. You don’t want to let go of your Executive Network completely; you want to enjoy the river without drowning in the process. Activating your IMN has been proven to increase the flow of creativity and open you up for artistic inspiration.
Here’s a list of ways you can exercise your Imaginative Network:
- Take some time, set yourself aside. Try to see things from a different perspective, there’s no stronger path to creativity.
- Day Dream. Go Stargazing/Cloud-watching. Lay by a river and just let your mind drift.
- Be outside. Find some good workout music and go for a hike (without the pad of paper and smartphone.) Go to the ocean.
- Take a breath. For centuries breathing exercises have been proven to increase health, study habits, and decrease stress levels, leading to an increase in productivity and brain functionality.
- Travel. Go overseas. Experience another language, another culture. Meet people who are different than you and learn from them.
- Write, write, write! Whatever is on your mind. Every Word. Just write. This is a simple exercise to get the brain flowing and working in the way you want it to.
- Draw your song. Use lots of colors. Become a kid again and get out those Crayons. You might be surprised by what can cause inspired lyrics.
- Close your eyes and Listen. Put on your favorite record album, light some incense, lay on the floor and enter Dream Land. There’s nothing more inspiring than your favorite album.
Engaging in activities that use the imaginative Network of your brain will help you in the unstuck process, but it’s not the only network that will help. The Executive Network has an important role to play as well! Here’s a list of activities that can help exercise your EN:
- Brain Food. Nope, we’re not talking about the gummy candy in the shape of brains. There are actually foods that can help increase brain activity and creativity. Look for foods with OMEGA-3, like Salmon, Blueberries, Turmeric (it’s a spice used in Curry), Broccoli, Pumpkin Seeds, Dark Chocolate (none of the Hershey’s products, get the real stuff), Nuts and Seeds, Green Tea.
- Different scents have proven to help increase brain activity and cognition, which leads to better focus. Get your nose ready; it’s the most underrated sense you have: Try Lavender, Cinnamon, Turmeric, or Coffee.
- Rack Em’ Up. A game of Pool and a pitcher of beer with the Amigos. That’s right! Get out of your head for a bit, and out of your Garage. Go have a beer, lighten up and hang with some friends.
- Sudoku or other word/number puzzles: Engage in word and number puzzles that exercise parts of the brain you normally don’t use. This can increase stimulation in other areas.
- Read the Newspaper. Be active in your world, see what’s going on. Take a stand. Sometimes all it takes is a little motivation to help with creativity. Trust me, our world could use your help.
- The Mozart Effect. Research has proven that listening to classical music helps brain functionality. It’s a study largely based around infants and children, but can include adults too. Don’t be too quick to judge the classical music, you’ll get wicked smart.
- Take a cold shower. No, not that kind of cold shower. Exposing your body to the cold in extreme ways can release endorphin’s in the brain, which is a pretty quick way to get the juices flowing. It’s like jumping off a cliff into an ice lake, or skydiving.
- Open Mic Night. Play some music and also meet other bands who are playing too. It’s called doing your research. Get to know others, listen to different music. Play in front of a crowd and feel the rush of excitement. It’ll make you want to go home and write all night long.
The Stuck Dimension is not a world you want to be a part of, but we all enter it at some point. It’s not as much about avoiding it as it is preparing for it. Sometimes we just have to sit through it. At least now you have a few tricks up your sleeves for when it happens. If you have any resources or tricks of your own, pass it along. At Afton, we believe all artists are on the same side.