We all get stuck sometimes, whether it’s with coming up with your next novel idea or figuring your way out of a messy plot point. Fortunately, psychology has given us a few creativity techniques that can help your brain figure its way out of a jam.
Hobbies and other pursuits (like watching cat videos) that don’t demand your entire attention are good for figuring things out, apparently. Personally, I like to plan my life while I’m vacuuming – the combination of cleaning and thinking helps me get motivated and make plans far better than simply sitting at a desk and trying to set a direction. If you’re feeling stuck, try intentionally setting yourself a task that doesn’t require your whole attention – maybe it’s vacuuming or washing dishes, maybe it’s knitting or crochet (if you’re already comfortable with the technique), or maybe it’s simply walking outside. Don’t make yourself think about the problem – just let your mind wander and relax. Regular time spent in non-demanding distraction can up your creative problem-solving skills, so make sure you work this time into your day if problem-solving is important for you!
Brainstorming alone or in a group and creating a mind map can help you figure your way out of a tough problem, so next time you’re stuck, try pulling out a piece of paper and a pen or a mind mapping app to build a visual map of your problem. A few things to consider inserting: what is the crux of the problem? What are several possible solutions? What is the impact of each solution? Remember: you don’t have to be realistic. These are theoretical solutions and this exercise allows you the freedom to explore all avenues.
You can use improvisation in several different ways to inspire yourself. If you’re comfortable enough with someone else to bring them in on your story, try acting out a scene with the other person, but only tell them the bare bones of the concept. See where they go with it! Even if they do something crazy as that character, it may inspire you or trigger a change in perspective.
You can also improvise on your own by free-flow writing for a set amount of time. If you’re feeling ambitious you could even try The Most Dangerous Writing App, which steadily deletes your work if you stop writing for more than five seconds. Within your free-writing exercise, try changing perspectives and writing your scene from someone else’s point of view – it may help to broaden your sense of the scene and help you move on.
Lateral thinking is a problem-solving technique that involves looking at a problem in a new and unusual way. It’s often equated with “creative thinking” – think of stepping sideways to look at a problem from another angle. You would use lateral thinking in brainstorming; for example, you could come up with 10 ways that this problem could be solved. Lateral thinking is helpful in mind mapping, which I discussed above. I find lateral thinking most helpful in terms of the daily habits I have: for example, when I teach a yoga class, I have sequences that I use often. Sometimes, to change it up, I will ask myself “What if I HAD to move a different way out of this pose?” When I don’t allow myself to follow the same pattern, new and interesting sequences can arise. You can do the same thing with writing habits – what if you HAD to go another way, and you had no choice about it? Which way would you choose?
One more creative way of solving problems is to use word or image association. Fire up Google and find a random image; open a dictionary and point to a random word on a page; open a random website and use the fifth word on the third line. Whatever you find, link that image or that word to your problem somehow. This exercise may be helpful or it may not – hopefully, it will trigger a new association that will help you dig your way out of the hole you’re in. If you’re trying to come up with new ideas out of the blue, try finding several random words and images and linking them together into a story.
What techniques do you use for solving plot problems or coming up with new ideas? Let me know in the comments!