Creativity and Whatnot


We saw this documentary about creative thinking on the BBC the other day, who are spaz-chariots because they think they can “control information” – so lock their “content” up geographically… which, means if you’re outside the UK, you need a VPN (try (who take bitcoins)), so their DRM slows you down for at least 30 seconds.

But it’s an interesting documentary… hopefully someone will put it on the open-web at some point… and so I’ve been thinking about creativity and insight etc a fair bit recently, because the sort of creativity that I need for digital problem-solving seems to be different from physical problem-solving… and I’m moving from being a programmer to a cottage industrialist.

Physical takes time… and it’s less analysis/coding, and more “flash”. At the moment I’m playing with an auto balancing thing… a motor that moves a weight… to counterbalance a tilt.


Simple enough… but there are questions… eg,

– to use a lead screw (pictured) or belt?
– where to put the battery?
– how to make the design pleasingly symetrical
– what to make the weight out of etc…
– how to build the slider for the weight.

So I play with this in my mind for a bit… did a couple of inkscape drawings… then about a day later, realised that I could use the battery as the weight.

And then a bit later realised that I could use two batteries and have the motor in the middle.

And then realised that the weights don’t have to move at all… just the “pivot” attached to the motor, and the motor moves. Power fed to it on the rails that it runs on.

And then I realised that I didn’t need to use a belt at all… I could laser-cut a “solid belt”, ie: reinvent the rack and pinion.


All of which took about 4 days… some of it was involved with drawing pictures, some of it by playing with batteries and bits of pipe etc… but most of the brainwave type events happen at non-descript times… wandering about. Making coffee. Demonstrably Not Working.

You kindof know when you’ve got something right though, because the design shrinks. It’s like an alchemical “coagula / solve” thing… out of the chaos comes a smaller, purer and stronger version of what was there before. The drawing above may not look simpler, but it can be entirely made with things I happen to have… without needing flex-shaft couplers or linear bearings etc.

So I see this BBC program, that says that insights/creativity… the “out of the blue” moments, are increased by putting yourself in weird situations (which explains why hallucinogens boost creativity)… combined with doing mundane tasks, that distract the analytical/visual part of your mind.

There’s a distraction involved… a shutting down of left-brained consciousness, if I’ve got that right… and that kindof makes sense.

Something else I’ve noticed though – is sometimes when creativity flows, it really flows – it’s like falling out of a tree and hitting every branch. I’d noticed this song-writing when I was younger I’d secret myself away from the world (no phone; no tv; no people) for a week or two… and after a couple of days, the ideas would come so fast I couldn’t deal with them… “striking sparks in every direction”. Sometimes they were good, sometimes they weren’t… but there were so many, it didn’t matter – there was flow. It was all experiment.

I can recognise the vibe… the sort of output that’s created in various REM records from back in the day… New Automatic for the People for example. In fact I seem to recall Wendell Gee was what Michael called one of his “vomiting songs”, which if you don’t like REM will resonate, but what he meant was that the lyrics just chucked up in 5 minutes.

And Country Feedback, which is fucking cosmic, seems to have come from a similar place.

And I recognise this up-chucking of lyrics. For me it’s the only way they can be written. They ONLY come out of the flow

I think a lot of it is to do (for me at least) with not being too invested in one particular song/project because you’re working on about 5 at the same time. It doesn’t have to be The Ultimate American Novel… you can just bin it if you want because so much else is going on.

Creative blockage often comes about by being too invested in one thing. Here’s a simple example: asking people to make up a password. Often they just sit there stuck, because they’re trying to think of a word that’s the very essence of their being. I used to work in IT support – I’ve seen this a lot. People get writer’s block trying to make up a single word.

So I’ve become interested in this stuff again… and started experimenting.

What I’ve found works quite well… is to be alone… preferably for a day or two. For me creativity doesn’t happen when other people are around. Then sit in front of an entire evening’s worth of art-movies… eg: “Cosmopolis” by David Cronenberg… or Hal-Hartley… lyrical word-heavy things that you’re not really paying attention to…. just drift in and out of.

Don’t have a computer on. In fact don’t look at a computer all day. Sit with pen and paper nearby, and a guitar and tape machine or whatever with a 6 pack of beer… which you drink at the rate of about 1 an hour… and 1/2 pay attention to the movie… words and phrases… bits of music… ideas float out of it. Don’t think about the film… think about other stuff.

Works for me. It flows.

I’ve also found that if I’ve got a really tough concept to crack, lie in a dark room… ie: before you go to sleep, having just taken an hallucinogenic-level hit of THC. You need to be able to light-on, and write stuff down when it comes, but I find it distracts the over-organising part of your brain, and allows you to make connections between things that weren’t previously connected.

(the remsters when they were kids)