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The Joy of Mental Sex: Lesson VI

December 2, 2009

More Mental Barriers to Bash

III. Follow the rules.

Patterns: The rules of the game Alexander Pope once said: “Order is heav’n’s first law.”

Looking for patterns in complex systems can lead to creativity. Do you read mysteries and try to figure out whodunit before the end? That’s your creative brain looking for clues and patterns in the mystery. You’re trying to beat the author to the end of the book and see if you figured out his or her plan.

Developing patterns helps some people write and is almost essential for mystery writers who want to plant both clues and false leads. It’s an analytical brain function that makes sense of the words and the world they create.

Paradigm Paralysis and Writer’s Block If constructing patterns were all that were necessary for creating ideas, we’d all be geniuses. Paradigm paralysis is getting stuck in the “rules” of the box, and it is one of the primary causes of writer’s block.

Creative thinking is not only constructive, but also destructive. Sometimes we have to destroy or ignore the old, to create the new.

A very effective creative thinking strategy is to play the revolutionary and challenge the rules.

The Aslan Phenomenon says:

  • We make rules based on reasons that make a lot of sense.
  • We follow these rules.
  • Time passes and things change
  • The original reason for the generation of these rules may no longer exist, but because the rules are still in place, we continue to follow them.

Creative thinking may simply mean the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done. This allows us to seek our new processes, ideas, and behaviors.

Exercise: Do you recognize this?


If you need a hint, look down. It’s the first line of the keyboard. It came into use when the original manual typewriters with alphabetic keyboards had several keys getting stuck due to frequency of use and striking force. By altering the placement of the keys, less striking force in outer digits relieved the problem. This is now a Sacred Cow. It’s something still in the market because our great-granddaddies did it this way. It’s one of those things that may never really change, even with the re-introduction of alphabetic formats on some computer keyboards where striking force is not an issue.

Why? The Aslan Phenomenon. They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

From a creativity perspective, this is stifling. Sometimes we need to bash the rules of order to come up with something new. The next time you get stuck in a plot because you are following someone else’s rules, slay a Sacred Cow. I’ve found Sacred Cows make great steaks.

 IV. Be practical.

Human beings occupy a special niche in the order of things.

  1. We have the ability to symbolize our experiences.
  2. Our thinking is not limited to the real and the present.
  3. We can anticipate the future.
  4. We are not bound by real world constraints.
  5. We generate ideas that have no correlation in the world of experience.

We don’t have to be practical all the time. Don’t let the commander squash your strategist! Sometimes we have turn off our internal editor who wants to argue with anything that doesn’t make sense according to natural laws.

Ask “what if?”

Imagine how others would do it. Imagine how it would happen on Venus, Mars or Mount Olympus. Imagine how it would work in a different time period than the one you’re writing. How would your scene work if gravity didn’t exist. Interview your hero. Take him to lunch. Sleep with him if it makes you feel better and gets your creative mind flowing (I was going to say creative juices flowing until I caught my own double entendre).

Don’t worry if other people think you’re schizophrenic. I’ve worked with forensic psych cases for years. Even among fellow workers, I doubt I ever met anyone “normal.” In fact, if someone is normal in this day and age, I doubt a forensic psych person would be able to identify them. We don’t know what normal is anymore.

The point here is learning to let your mind take flight away from the real world now and free itself of the constraints imposed by rules written by others.

 The stepping Stone: Stepping stones are provocative and sometimes nonsensical ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Their value is in where they lead our thinking, and they are an imperative in any brainstorming session. They are also important in back-story, which gives you the starting place for you book.

You don’t execute stepping stones, you launch your thinking from them. There are some creative ideas that can only be reached by going through a stepping stone or two. Whether you brainstorm alone or in a group, never underestimate it’s benefits.

If you haven’t seen the comments under Lesson IV, Penny asked about my self-brainstorming method. I explained it in more detail in the comments there.

V. Play is frivolous.

Exercise: Answer this question:

During what kinds of activities and situations do you get your ideas?

 The moment of conception comes often when we are most relaxed. Many times that is during play. In fact, playing is what I do for a living. The work comes in organizing the results of the play.

Humor also factors into creativity. It stretches your thinking. Humor forces you to combine ideas that are usually not associated with one another.

Humor allows you to take things less seriously. And I will bring up humor again later. For now keep this in mind: There is a close relationship between the “haha” of humor and the “aha” of discovery.

Pause for a bit. Get away from your work and play. Sometimes turning matters over to our active unconscious is the best strategy of all.

Exercise: Take a minute and see if you can think of at least seven major cities that begin with the letter “m.”

Nonsensical problem solving is perceived as play to the creative brain. It allows the cerebral cortex to focus on something else while your active unconscious mind still dwells on your dilemma.  Remember the movie War Games? By making the learning Woper computer focus on tic-tac-toe, they were able to prevent the thermonuclear war. The war game was still running in  the background, but by refocusing on the other game, the learning computer figured out there was no way to win the war.

The next time you have a problem, play with it.

If you don’t have a problem, play anyway. You may find some new ideas. And while you’re at it, make your work place a fun place to be.

Exercise: Laugh at yourself. What’s the funniest thing you’ve done in the last year? What did you learn from it?

 Until next time, Merry Christmas, Take Care & Happy Writing.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Aislinn permalink
    December 2, 2009 9:52 am

    Something I’ve found lately is that when I’m reading a book for my own enjoyment, I will suddenly have a flash of creative inspiration about my own writing. I thought it was strange, but this post actually explains it. While I’m reading (playing) my subconscious is working in the background.

  2. Mary McCall permalink*
    December 2, 2009 8:33 pm

    That’s it exactly, Aislinn. If I’m reading an author who is especially gifted with discriptions that aren’t wordy, I’ll read the book like a movie flowing in my mind. Then just when I’m getting into it, I’ll have a eureka-moment. Thus, I always keep index cards with me… no matter what.

  3. December 14, 2009 7:54 pm

    This helps me a lot. I always ignored those flashes, thinking that I just couldn’t concentrate enough on the book I was reading.

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