Lately, my lunchtime reading (out of the enormous stack) has been the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. It’s a fascinating investigation into the conditions under which creativity occurs. While the book has attracted some bad press recently, the main messages ring true with my own experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately, because my novel is chugging slowly toward completion. I’m now in the midst of a 4th (and hopefully final!) draft of this 4 1/2-year project, so fostering the conditions under which creativity can blossom is a major preoccupation. While I may not be as scientific about it as Jonah Lehrer, I do have a few favorite ingredients for effective creative work.

First ingredient: chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better. Especially if it also has coffee in it!

Second ingredient: post-it notes. Definitely multicolored (although I’ve heard rumor that the yellow ones are the stickiest). I’m currently using them to color-code my revision notes: pink for introduction, green for body, blue for conclusion, yellow for characters. I use so many that I should probably buy stock in the post-it note company.

Third ingredient: English tea. Yesterday I even got lucky and found a scone to go with it. Tea, scone, post-its, favorite pen, and double-spaced manuscript. Perfect recipe for a productive novel-writing afternoon. 

I must have picked up this habit while I was in Britain. I never even liked black tea until I drank it in a window seat overlooking the rugged Welsh countryside. With a book, of course. (That’s Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, if you’re curious.)

Of course, I don’t take pictures of the long hours I spend slouched in my office chair, or the late nights when I have to push up my eyelids to keep them open. The ones pictured here are the nicer moments. But they’re important to the creative process. Says Lehrer:

“This sort of mental relaxation makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights; we’re less focused on what’s right in front of us and more aware of the possibilities simmering in our imaginations.”

I’ll buy that.

What are the ingredients of your creative process? 

8 thoughts on “Imagine

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this too lately! I quit pinterest cold turkey because it was sucking my creativity out of me! Great ideas on there, but I realized that getting all these crafty ideas was stopping me from having my own original artistic ideas. Creative laziness… no good! I’ve been wanting to paint/do some art lately, but the well has been a bit dry… just a few, not fully formed ideas :/ Figuring out ways to fuel it. I have too much business usually, and need to make more time to just sit & think and daydream 🙂 Need to get my site & blog back up and running so I can get these thoughts out there & let them grow 😉


    1. Awesome! It’s so true; I read a blog post about making time for the pre-art creativity to happen. We need space in our lives to exhale, and in the nothing-time, the ideas start to churn. Great idea about Pinterest–I think fasting from social media last week helped me to get off the social media hamster wheel for a while and sit with my own life and ideas 🙂 Can’t wait to see what comes of your cultivating-time!


  2. Being outside and gardening, especially weeding (menial labor!)seems to be instant creative fuel for me, though by the time I’m done I’m so tired I can’t always put the creative ideas into practice. But I’m always inspired by the ideas God seems to bring to mind outdoors. I say God because most of the time these ideas seem to come out of the blue, applications of weeding to my inner life. Maybe I will try some of your suggestions to move to the next step of actually implementing those creative ideas, and, like Elaine, get that blog reignited! By the way, I notice that in your photo of that delicious bar of dark chocolate, the wrapper has been tampered with :0!! Thanks for getting the fuse going!


  3. I can TOTALLY relate to chocolate and post-it notes but will sub Coffee for tea. There are many things that fuel my creativity — I try to pick one each week and blog about it. :-)I definitely believe in getting away from the computer to allow inputs from all over the place — with input there is no output.


  4. Chocolate, coffee, a long walk, a funny radio show, anything that’s cleverly written (movie, tv show, book, etc), and trusting the possibilities our creative minds offer up. All of these fuel my creativity.


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