Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

1: Creativity is commonplace and easy

Prehistoric humans simply sought to survive. Just existing used-up all of their time and effort. They weren’t squatting in dark caves scribbling on the walls or building monoliths all the time! Oh no, mostly they were hunting, fishing, gathering, stalking, etc. you get the idea. When they applied their fingers in a creative endeavor, it was to assemble tools, weapons, nets, baskets, clothes, pots.

It is not a common human condition to think creatively. Perhaps only a few individuals in each society were able to connect to the power of abstract imagination. Most humans just don’t have the breathing space in a busy day to permit creative thinking. So it’s not commonplace and it’s not easy!

2: Lazy thinking is bad

Thinking lazily, finding shortcuts for mundane tasks, or using quick ‘n’ easy solutions to save time is a natural human condition and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Once we have “grown out of playing” — once childhood is over— we reconstruct ourselves into the shape that society requires (of us); we shape ourselves into the semblance of propriety that society demands. We operate the way society obligates. If all this compliance means cutting some corners and becoming unquestioning, so be it. We do these things because we operate reflexively, without conscious control. We are naturally docile & obedient as a species. And “thinking outside the norm” is regarded as deviancy and even an insubordinate human trait. In many cultures, even now, creative thinking is presumed to be mischievous behavior.

Also, we are not naturally playful as a species. We are not puppy dogs! Neither are we naturally adventurous. We are not mountain goats! We’d prefer to remain inside the safety of our group (a fraternity, a club, a family, a tribe, a clan or just a consortium of ideas) because an alliance with others offers us much-needed protection. But we are aware that these alliances work on trust, and that certain behaviors are expected of us inside our groups and so we must adhere to the rules they impose, for the safety of ourselves and the group at large. One of these behaviors is the presumption that we must never stand out, we must never be noticeable — because to be attention-getting would endanger the entire group. Lazy thinking is natural. Creative thinking is hard!

3: You have to sit quietly to think properly

Most of my best thoughts come while I cycle, while I power-walk, or while I do chores around my home. I also have great ideas in the bath-tub and sometimes in the shower. It is not easy (of course) to jot thoughts down when they come to you at inappropriate times … but I have learned some workaround solutions: a voice note on my phone when I’m walking (I cannot do this when riding or driving.) I carry a pencil and notepad with me at all times, I stick things into my google calendar as I go along or I make journal entries … there may be other ways to capture snapshots of what I call non-mediated free thoughts, but I haven’t found them yet. But, if you force yourself to think, when you sit in a dark place and apply yourself to thought … guess what? Thoughts do not magically appear!

4. Our ancestors were better thinkers. Take the Brontës, for example

The people of 19th century West Yorkshire, in England, were market traders, wool & cotton processors, weavers, potters, artisans, merchants, gardeners, busy mothers, sick grandparents (the Bronte sister’s father was a parish priest). People had little time for frivolity, vague thinking, or cloud-cuckoo-land ideas. No, our ancestors were restrained, sober, and serious people. They were moderate (in behavior and thought) and very prosaic. They were not better thinkers than us! Mostly, they were too busy to think — let alone write write imaginatively. If any were lucky enough to find time for creative thinking, they used what (little time they had) judiciously. Just like you ought to do!

5: You can’t think properly when you’re talking 

Have you heard of brainstorming? It’s a worthwhile creativity technique that “works” by drawing together lots of silly ideas that others spontaneously contribute by yelling out… it takes two (or more) to do the creative tango! If you honestly don’t have anyone to “bounce ideas off” then what about using your contacts on social networks? Why not bounce ideas off followers, friends and like-minded connections?

I think a human brain functions like a peg board game or a plinko machine thingy

6: You can’t figure out stuff while watching television or listening to music

Sometimes you need to be “removed” from a problem before a solution will come. I think that a human brain functions like a peg board game or a plinko machine thingy (aka as the payazzo game: the kind of counter-drop thing that you’ll have seen on Britain’s The Price Is Right or the NBC game show The Wall ) where you drop a coin or counter into a slot at the top of the plinko and this counter (your query) falls through the machine’s gubbins, bouncing left to right as it hits pegs along the way, until it ultimately hits the bottom (pay-dirt) with a solution. This means you need to allow time for the “penny to drop” inside your “plinko mind” and the best way to do that is to watch TV (the more rubbish, the better) or listen to music (trashier is best) because this allows your mind time to loosen up (and will allow the inner mechanism of your plinko mind to do its thang 😊)

7: Too much thinking will melt your brain

Imagine your brain is a muscle. Muscles need to be fed, warmed up, cooled-down and rubbed better (ahem) but what do muscles want most? They want to be flexed, that’s what! Any athlete, coach, exercise guru, or health expert will tell you that you must purposely flex & stretch your muscles to promote elasticity and bring about a good tone. How much active physical stretching do you do? (Not counting yawning and extending your arms when you wake?) It’s not enough (I wager.)

When I was a long-distance runner in the 1990s (I have eleven marathon medals, don’t you know? ha ha!) the best-planned running-events organised collective “stretch in” sessions. My favorite-ever session was led in Central Park at the New York City Marathon, and actress Jane Fonda led our stretching exercise (she was big in work-outs, back then.) Guess what? They yelled “you haven’t stretched long enough! Do it longer, longer…”

But going back to the brain as a muscle: if it is (indeed) a muscle (if you are a brain scientist, please don’t feel the need to write in and object… I’m using this as an analogy) but if it is “like” a muscle, then it needs to be fed, to be warmed, to be cooled, to be rubbed better and, more often than not, it needs to be flexed. Have you flexed your brain muscle today?

8: It’s natural to be less imaginative as you age

It’s natural to be lazy as you age. I know that for sure. But I don’t know about age being any obstruction to creative thinking. In fact, some of my favorite authors started creating more imaginatively later in life: Bram Stoker, Richard Adams, Raymond Chandler, Frank McCourt, Mary Wesley, Toni Morrison, Annie Proulx … and that doesn’t even take account of those workaholic authors like Stephen King (age 74) Neil Gaiman (age 60) GRRM (age 73) or Hilary Mantel (age 69) who are still thinking-up great original ideas. You are never too old to come-up with new stuff!

Do you really need the intervention of some fairy wearing a see-through nightdress and cavorting around with playmates, in heaven, to encourage you to excel?

9: Imagination is magic… it works by leveraging divine connection

In ancient times, people assumed that imagination, especially when it was used in arts, poetry, literature, dance, and music, must have been guided by “the graces” (given how rare it was) and these graces helped mortals improvise things (or just recognize stuff they already knew but had somehow forgotten!) The Greek traveler, Pausanias, declared that the muses awarded certain privileged people (creative artists) with tools for imaginative thinking. These tools were, according to him: “occasion” “practice” “memory” and “learning to sing from the heart.”

Muse just meant “put in mind.” The states of consciousness associated with the providence of the muses soon became the preconditions for what ancient Greeks called poetic art: occasion, practice, memory, song from the heart.

But do you really need the intervention of some fairy wearing a see-through nightdress and cavorting around with playmates in heaven to encourage you excel in the arts? Do you really require the agency of some bare-foot angel wielding a golden lyre to help you breathe life into a new creation? Or might you be able to develop your mind and prepare for artistic inspiration by providing yourself with “occasion” to think, by studiously practicing imaginative powers, by flexing the muscles of your mind, and by learning to sing from your heart? My advice is to cut-out the intermediary angels & fairies and determine to be imaginative using your own talents and qualities.

10: There’s no way to “improve” a tired mind

Oh yes, there is, matey! To shake-up your thinking muscles and stir your inspirational wellspring, follow my imaginicity exercise classes…

Words: @neilmach September 2021 ©

To participate in my FREE online creative imaginicity exercises over the next few weeks, follow my social media here

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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