The Neuroscience of Creativity

Yes, it’s true. It takes a brain to be creative. So those of you who don’t have one…hey, sorry:

By Kathy Graham

We don’t normally associate neuroscience with creativity yet the study of the brain has much to contribute to what is set to be the premium topic of the 21st century.

Susan Greenfield is a scientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords. She was also a keynote at last year’s Mind & Its Potential conference where she presented on this very subject, framing her talk around four specific questions: Is our creativity genetically determined? What happens in the brain during the creative process? How can we maximise the opportunities for creativity? How can we develop a sense of creativity?

Is our creativity genetically determined?
Greenfield tells us our genes are important but they’re not the whole story and that environment plays a key role. Not only that, we have the superlative ability to adapt to our environment, a state of affairs known as brain plasticity.

The upshot is that each and every one of us has our own unique configuration of brain cell connections shaped by our individual experiences, which in turn are driven by mental processes. “The critical issue is not the contraction of the muscle, it’s the thought that has preceded it, that has left its mark on the brain,” she says.

That’s her first main point. Her second is that the more connections there are – our brain cells work harder and these connections multiply when we’re engaged in a stimulating enriched environment – the more “you can see one thing in terms of something else, then perhaps it has a significance to you. That’s what we mean by understanding. In this way, by virtue of our neuronal connections, we can navigate the world [and] start to understand what’s going on.”

What happens to the brain during the creative process?
Greenfield shows a slide of a portrait that’s been painted in an abstract style to demonstrate that creativity requires three necessary steps. “Perhaps the first stage in creativity is to deconstruct to abstract sensations, to challenge dogma. The second is unusual associations.” The third? “[A work of art] only has validity if it has a significance and meaning, if it will therefore drive other connections in your brain.”

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And Now, a Major Real-Life Rule For Writers to Live By

Hey, it’s from Lifehacker.Com, so you know it’s about Real Stuff:

“We Have to Continually Be Jumping Off Cliffs and Developing Our Wings on the Way Down” – by Whitson Gordon

Authors Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, both of whom have been cited as saying versions of this quote, know a thing or two about creativity. They say that “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Apart from being a vivid image, it’s a great metaphor for taking risks. Sometimes, you need to just jump headfirst into a project, even if you don’t know where you’re going with it yet. You’ll learn as you go, and sometimes that’s the best way to get the results you want.

True dat. Except when it isn’t.

Well, okay, we’ll give Ray and Kurt the thumbs up for truth sign. But FWIW we believe in making just a few preparations for stepping off the cliff. Some knowledge or skill that might double as wings.

But we’re definitely believers in the “No safety net” theory of life. Because sometimes going splat! is the best way to learn.

(And failing as a writer won’t kill ya like a 1000 foot fall will. The human spirit is much more resilient than too many people believe.)

LB on Writing: The Rule of 10,000

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladstone

Hmm, an internet success meme that almost makes sense. Unless, of course, you take it literally:

What Is the 10000 Hour Rule?

The 10000 Hour Rule is just that. This is the idea that it takes approximately 10000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.For instance, it would take 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day to become a master in your subject. It would take approximately 5 years of full-time employment to become proficient in your field. Simply work out how many hours you have already achieved and calculate how many more you need to clock up before you reach 10000. (As interpreted on Squidoo.)

My experience tells me that, yes, there’s a great deal of truth in Malcolm Gladstone’s new book, Outliers. But in spite of the way various self-help websites have latched onto it, this particular Gladstonian adage, like most good advice, works on the metaphorical as opposed to the literal level.

In other words, everything I’ve done/seen/known in my shockingly long (to me) life puts me in complete agreement with the idea that practicing, practicing, practicing (for writers, writing, writing, writing) is essential for anyone to get really good – professionally good – at just about anything.

Assuming, of course, that you have talent.

‘Cuz – and I’m really sorry, boys and girls – if you don’t start with your own aptitude for something I don’t care how long and hard you work at it…it just ain’t gonna happen for you.

And that too comes from my own experience. There’s a reason I became a writer instead of a major league baseball player even though I loved chucking the ole pill around as much as I loved to write. Love wasn’t enough. Practice wasn’t enough. I lacked the innate potential.

Maybe we should change this to “The Rule of Busting Your Hump So You Can Get Even Better at Something Your Genetic Makeup Has Already Made You Good For?”

What? Oh, right. I agree. That’s definitely missing a little something. Give me 10,000 hours to work at rephrasing it and I’ll come up with something grand!

LB: Classic Writing Advice Dept. Rule #1

Yep, this is an iPhone case? Need one?

You’ve heard/read this before and will hear/read it again, but did you know that this, the single most important thing you can keep in mind while writing anything, came from a guy who called himself “Q?”

His full name was Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, editor of, as Wikipedia puts it, “the monumental Oxford Book of English Verse…” among many other things, and if anyone ever knew a thing or two about brevity, Q was the one.

Or, as he put it so famously (and perfectly):

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings.

I’ve followed Rule #1 from Day #1 of my career, and the only time I’ve ever regretted anything I wrote was when I read a passage of my own work and realize I could’ve killed still more. (Whilch is why I’m not letting myself re-read this post.)

From one murderer to another:



The Best Websites and Software for Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

Because thinking is easier than writing:

from How-To-Geek


FreeMind is a free mind-mapping program written in Java. It supports folding and unfolding with one click and the ability to follow HTML links stored in the nodes to websites or local files. You can drag and drop nodes to copy one or more nodes and to copy text or a list of files from outside the program.

FreeMind also provides a search function that shows the results one by one as you “find next,” unfolding only the nodes for the items found.

Mind maps created in FreeMind can also be exported to HTML with the folding capability converted to links…


XMind is a free, open source mind mapping program for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to plan, capture, organize, and act on your ideas. XMind’s Mind Toolbox allows you to setup relationships between topics, boundaries around topics, summaries of selected topics, labels to categorize and annotate topics, and markers used to express specific meanings, such as priority or progress.

XMind can also be used to create organization charts, tree charts, logic charts, and more, even within one map. You can share your mind maps on the web.

XMind also has Plus ($79) and Pro ($99) versions that offer additional features. You can also sign up for a subscription to XMind for $79 per year.

For more information about XMind, see our article that describes using the Linux version of the program…


iMindMap Basic is a free mind mapping program for Windows and Mac OS X useful for brainstorming, taking notes, planning and organizing, and managing tasks. You can even use it to deliver 3D presentations.

Some of the useful features in iMindMap are the Icon Library, the notes feature that allows you to add a variety of content into your maps, and the ability to export your mind maps as .jpeg or .png images.

There is also a Home and Student version available for £49 and an Ultimate version for £149…


Blumind is a simple, but powerful, free mind mapping program for Windows that supports multiple chart layouts, such as organization charts, tree diagrams, logic diagrams, and more. The program supports themes and contains a lot of built-in themes you can customize. You can also add notes, icons, progress bars and other widgets to your maps.

Mind maps created in Blumind can also be exported to multiple formats, including JPG, PNG, SVG, and TXT.

Blumind is also available in portable format.

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