Where do you have your best ideas? In the shower? In bed, in the middle of the night? In the car?
In the era before we carried tiny computers around with us, I always kept a notebook close at hand wherever I went. At night, it sat on my bedside table and tended to fill up, more often than not, during the hours of darkness. I put it there after countless experiences where a groundbreaking thought materialised in my head in the middle of the night and then just as quickly passed out of my mind, before I had the chance to commit it to memory or paper.
Imagine what I could have achieved had I captured all those thoughts!!
And I am clearly not the only one to have suffered! Recent research has begun to give us a far greater understanding of the science behind this. For a layman like me, this article (https://buffer.com/resources/shower-thoughts-science-of-creativity/) has a good go at communicating some of what is going on in our brains.
There is clearly a strong connection between feeling relaxed and generating ideas and it is comforting to know that this is not a new phenomenon.
One of the reasons why the English language is so rich and eloquent is the number of words it uses for similar ideas. I recently explored the derivation of the verb “saunter” (https://twitter.com/claretandwhite), having done a fair bit of sauntering myself over the last year.
Like many words, there is some debate as to its origin but the following explanation seems very appropriate.
Saunter had no connection with walking until the 17th century. Until then the middle English verb was “santer”, which meant to muse or to be in a dream-like state. The theory is that this in turn was connected to the noun “sawnterell”, which was the word for a pretended saint - a thinker, a ponderer, you might say.
And then, presumably, people walking slowly looked so like they were contemplating great thoughts and musing on the purpose of life that suddenly they were “sauntering”.
I am a saunterer - there, I admit it! I often get told off for walking too slowly but the walking police do not realise what damage they are doing to the percolations going on in my mind. By sauntering, I am formulating ideas. When I am stuck for something to write, I go for a walk.
The concept of “writer’s block” has probably been around since writing began but the term itself was first used in the 1940s by a psychiatrist called Edmund Bergler, who had been trained in the Freudian school of psychoanalysis. In 1950, he published a paper in American Imago entitled “Does Writer’s Block Exist?” This was after spending years with “blocked” writers, interviewing and researching.
His conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that they needed therapy; their “blockages” with writing were the result of personal psychological problems. Unblock their own lives and their writing would flourish.
Vague though this was, it has been supported to a certain degree by more recent research. Psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios took on the issue in the 1970s and 1980s and their conclusions, while more nuanced, broadly highlighted the same problem. A lack of motivation to write had some connection to a lack of overall joy in their lives. This article in The New Yorker provides more detail and also contains stories about the great Graham Greene! (https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block)
So, clearing your mind, as best you can, may be the answer and going for a walk may be how to achieve this.
But whether it is the woods, the shower, the bedroom or the car, take note of where you have your great ideas and be ready to record them before they wash away, for ever. And if they still don’t come, try going for a nice, long saunter!