DISCUSS is a series in which IdeasTap members who are part of our Creative Space programme debate issues around the arts. Today, Rachel England wonders whether getting less sleep might get more things done...
It’s January 2nd and I’m sitting at my desk, pondering a commission that needs turning round, quick smart. “Feel free to approach this creatively,” writes my editor and, while such carte blanche is usually music to a writer’s ears (especially if you’ve been bogged down in financial copywriting for the latter part of 2012), I’m staring at a menacingly blank document on my computer screen. Nothing is happening. My brain isn’t whirring into life. My hands aren’t dancing into a blur of typing. Words don’t come.
It’s the dreaded creative block, the wall of mental sterility. Every idea I feebly conjure seems bland and lifeless and, as I become increasingly cross with myself, I can feel the window of inspiration closing further. In short: ugh. This is not an infrequent occurrence for me. I’m a tightly wound person, fixated on my work being ‘just so’, and these self-imposed boundaries are not always conducive to flourishing creativity.
The answer, clearly, is to mute my inner critic, to access a deeper part of my psyche beyond the neuroticism and boundaries where I can explore ideas freely without a little voice squeaking, “No, that’s rubbish”. I could yap on unendingly about the psychology of self-criticism and feeling unable to relinquish the rigid control I maintain on all aspects of my life but, actually, what it comes down to is straightforward SCIENCE.
Scientists – such as the ones in this study – have consistently found that individuals with brain damage or who are sleepy or drunk are able to perform better at creative tasks than people considered to be “on top form”. Why? Because brains hone in on what they believe to be the right solutions to our problems and ignore thoughts and ideas considered irrelevant. On a daily basis this is a good thing – it means we can get through the day with relative ease and tie our shoelaces without being bombarded by endless streams of information about the task at hand.
However a haze of booze or the grogginess of sleepiness makes it harder for us to ignore the unlikely associations and random thoughts from which brilliant ideas are often born. In a creative context, it’s frustrating because the theory suggests control freaks (like me) can only attain true creativity by spending all night on the sauce. Fun as that might sound, it’s hardly practical – and despite an endless list of literary masters known for their boozy inclinations, I don’t really want to become that much of a cliché.
So what’s the answer? Beyond expensive therapy designed to help me just chill the hell out, I need to just, well, chill the hell out. Accept that some ideas are better than others, get over my irrational fear of having a bad idea, and – at the risk of sounding like an ‘inspirational’ Tumblr quote – unlock the door to free thought.
Or I could just not take a nap.
The opinions expressed in DISCUSS do not necessarily represent those of IdeasTap.
Do you feel more creative when worse for wear? Let us know below…
Image by Chris Tazewell, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence.