Last month we talked about saving our shavings in Need a Trim? This month, we’ll talk about incubating our ideas overnight.
Sometimes in a creative project, the next step can be daunting. Either something doesn’t feel right about the next action we’d planned to take, or we’re faced with a series of options, none of which seem good. Being stuck is no fun. There is an alternative to forcing your way over the hump, though. Many researchers believe the subconscious mind is a great creative problem solver, if we can figure out how to get out of its way and let it do the work…while we’re asleep!
What Happens in Bed?
There are multiple theories about what happens to us while we sleep, and why sleep is necessary. The Programming-Reprogramming theory states that while we sleep, we process and consolidate memories. If this is the case, maybe the analysis and sorting function serves to clarify which solutions to a creative problem will be the most effective.
It’s important to set your intention just before you go to bed. (This is true too if you’d like to remember your dreams.) As you lie down, think about the point in your project in which you normally hit a wall. You’re not looking to come up with an answer right then…and, in fact, you’re not encouraging yourself to stay up worrying about it, either. Think about your issue, the crucial question that will allow you to move forward with your project. Jot it down and plant it. Then, intend to mull it over as you sleep.
What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning? Whatever it may be, plant your crucial question there at bedtime. If you shuffle out to the kitchen to turn on the coffee, stick your question on the coffee maker. If you run to the bathroom, jot your question on the mirror in a dry-erase pen. If you wake up your kids, tape the question to their bedroom door. Whatever it takes to jog your memory.
I’m lucky enough to be an early riser. (I don’t feel lucky when it’s 4:30 am and freezing in the house, and I’m laying there wide awake. But in terms of getting morning work done, I’m not a zombie ’til noon like most night-people are.) Because I wake up gradually and naturally, I’m able to simply consider what it is I plan to work on that day, and do a quick mental rehearsal of how the scene I’d like to write should play out. What’s strange is, I invariably think, “Oh, and this other thing should happen too.” And the “other thing” is the most interesting, relevant, fascinating part of the idea. It’s just a better idea all around than something I could have searched and reached for the night before. And it just pops up as if it’s so obvious I should have thought of it long ago.
If allowing something to simmer over night is simply not possible for you, maybe you can condense your subconscious churning into a shorter amount of time by doing something other than trying to solve your problem. Researchers gave two groups of people information about selecting a new car. One group was told to research more on their own, then choose the car they thought was best. The other group was given a different task entirely to do, something engaging but not very taxing. It turned out that the second group made better decisions than the first. The researchers concluded that the subconscious mind was better and processing and analyzing the pros and cons. Other professionals in the field postulate that the first group was overthinking the matter, while the second group got out of its own way.
Whichever mechanism was at play, the takeaway for us is that we can step away from a creative problem for a short amount of time and do something different, such as cleaning up the dishes or going for a short walk, and then look at the problem fresh in hopes of tapping the more intuitive parts of our minds.
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest serially-written series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com