Unplugging to Foster Creativity

I’m about to give a piece of unpopular advice in the writing community. In fact, it’s not the type of advice we’d normally give on the Sprint Shack. But it’s something I’ve found to work for me nonetheless:

If you’re having a hard time writing, stop writing.

Hold on—don’t run from me yet! I’m not talking about an indefinite hiatus or a frustrated surrender. I’m actually not just talking about writing, either. I’m talking about stopping any kind of engaging activity that keeps your head down—such as writing, using social media, or reading—and taking a short but necessary break.

Last week, while researching some possible blog topics for my job’s website, I stumbled upon this article: Why Mobile Technology Is Hurting Your Creativity and Career. It largely talks about our constant and compulsive engagement with technology, especially mobile devices and social media, and how these things are impeding our creative processes. It encourages everyone to “unplug” for a set period of time on a regular schedule to allow our brains to breathe, regroup, and get the juices flowing again.

Shortly after finding this article, I came upon this video that’s recently gone viral. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s called Look Up, and it’s a beautiful spoken word film with a similar message, exploring our obsession with phones and social media and how this obsession keeps us from living our lives:

Now, while part of this poem says “being alone isn’t a problem, let me just emphasize / if you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise / you’re being productive and present, not reserved and recluse.” And while I agree with that, I’m going to take a combined message from this video and the article above it and make the argument that even activities like reading and painting require frequent breaks, as they actively engage your creativity and can eventually tire it out. Take, for example, this quote from the article:

“In the journal Thinking and Reasoning, psychologist Mareike Wieth and her team discovered that people are better able to solve problems that require a high degree of creativity when they are least alert, like when they first wake up or are laying down to sleep at night. Coincidentally, these are also times when people are most likely to take a shower or bath.”

How many times have you had a brilliant idea or done some in-depth thinking while taking a leisurely walk or a hot shower? In a world in which we’re constantly engaged, whether it be passively or actively, it can be hard to let our subconscious minds break through and put our creativity to good use. While practice and routine make perfect, sometimes we need that break to let our brains sort everything out. In fact, it’s best to make that break a part of the routine!

To use a personal example: I started formulating the basis for what would eventually become my current work-in-progress, a fantasy novel called Fleeting, while on a vacation in senior year of high school. I used to hole up in the library during my free periods to write, but often found myself frustrated or forcing out words that I ended up hating. However, after a week of relaxing in the sun and letting my mind wander (and having limited access to my phone, by the way), I finally developed some ideas I wanted to put to use. I still have that piece of paper in my folder, a slip of promotional hotel stationary with the beginnings of my soon-to-be novel scribbled on it.

Of course, this “unplugging” time can be difficult. Sure, maybe we can unplug from technology for an hour a day—but then what? Do you turn to a book to keep you company? Or to some other form of art or entertainment? While all these activities have irrefutable benefits to our creativity, my suggestion is simple: exercise. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean sweating for thirty grueling minutes of high intensity interval training; instead, take a walk, do some yoga or stretching, or simply meditate and do some deep breathing. Working your body is a great way to rest your mind.

How do you unplug? Do you have a ritual break from writing, reading, and technology that helps your process in any way? Let us know below!

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