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Thursday, March 13, 2008


Why do we get ideas in the shower?

Because we do; I know from reading that I'm not alone in this. The book I've just finished and the book I'm currently working on both owe some of their inception to moments of soapy inspiration. We speculated about this yesterday; here are my thoughts.

The likeliest reason, I suspect, is, as Margaret says, because we have our best ideas when we relax. Creativity is playful and innovative; it has to be able to try things without worrying whether or not they'll work. Showers are relaxing, assuming the water's warm. We're not sitting at a desk with a blank page staring at us accusingly; we're not doing the laundry, guiltily aware that we probably should be sitting at a desk staring at an accusing page. We're a long way away from the usual cares of the day. Distance can put problems in their proper perspective.

It's also entirely guilt-free. Showering is one of those things you simply have to do. You can't put it off like housework; you can't go on a showering diet like you can with food: if you don't shower, you become anti-social, and also can't get on with the rest of your day. But at the same time, while you're soaking wet and covered in shampoo, there's no way you could sit down and write. You'd get the page all damp. No, you have to wash the soap off, and then you have to dry yourself, and then you have to get dressed: there's a protective padding of chores between you and the evil moment. And, cushioned thus from writing anxiety, you can idly consider any number of ideas, knowing there's no pressure. (Of course, if something really brilliant strikes you, you may just have to jump out, wrap yourself in a towel and find some scrap paper and a biro, but there's no obligation to be that extreme.)

There's also something about a shower that allows us to turn our conscious minds down. It's not a stimulating environment, unless you have exceptionally interesting bathroom tiles, but at the same time, the water and noise create enough background stimulation that you start to feel nervous and isolated. You can drift, thinking about nothing in particular. This can have the advantages of a dreamlike state - your subconscious can start sending out scouts - with the added advantage that you're awake, so your ideas are less likely to a) Be forgotten by the time you get to a pen, and b) Be complete gibberish.

Showering is mildly boring, which also helps. Not so boring that you get tense and start casting around wildly for something, anything, that might keep you interested. Not uncomfortably boring, like waiting for a train, either; discomfort is very distracting. But it's not a particularly complicated activity. You stand under the water, you move the soap around: it's hardly a challenge. Under those conditions, your brain may start fooling around just for something to do. It has some time to kill, so it can get creative just to keep itself amused.

Writing is an anxious business, and very hard to do unless you feel safe. Being somewhere warm, mildly stimulating, with a locked door and no obligations, is a very safe-feeling environment. I doubt that a deliberate shower would have the same effect on writer's block as a routine shower: that would create pressure again. But a nice, casual shower is a pretty optimum place for ideas, if you're in the right mood.

Does anyone else have creative hotspots?

Another creative one for me is driving. I live in the midwest and we drive everywhere. But a good long drive on the highway is best.

It has a lot of the same qualities that a shower does. It's rather boring if the highway is straight and there isn't much traffic and nothing good on the radio. It is an enclosed environment, where I often practice dialog out loud if a good line strikes me. I'm busy doing something essential, so I can't be expected to write, and even if I could write an idea down, it would not be safe to do so. Like the shower, I literally can't write there. So of course, that's where the fairies show up.

A longish walk outdoors is another good one. That is one I will deliberately cultivate. If the writing is going badly, out I go, and by the time I return home, I have figured it out.
Another creative one for me is driving. I live in the midwest and we drive everywhere. But a good long drive on the highway is best.

A musician I know once remarked that he got some of his best songwriting ideas on long roadtrips.
Shower, car, and bed are hotspots for me. But the shower is where my mind really kicks in and the ideas flow. I'm always yelling for my wife to ask if she'll come in and write down my ideas. She bought me a waterproof notepad for my birthday. Now I write in the water and don't need her :) They're called AquaNotes. Nick
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