Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ideas: Think Differently

Like the old beer commercial where people argued whether the best thing about the brew was that it, "tastes great," or that it's, "less filling," writers persist identifying themselves as, "plotters," or "pantsers."

If we must have distinctions, I think, "architect," and, "gardener," respectively are much better labels.

But we'd be even further ahead to view architecture and gardening, not as defining our nature as writers but as techniques in our toolbox that we use--like an artist uses pastels and oils--when appropriate.

I came across evidence, on the PsyBlog, that I'm not entirely out to lunch for thinking such a thing. They describe a study, in a post titled, "Unusual Thinking Styles Increase Creativity," in which people who solved problems "using systematic patterns of thought" (rational) and people who solved problems "by setting the[ir] mind[s] free to explore associations" were asked to change their problem-solving style.
The researchers wondered if people's creativity could be increased by encouraging them to use the pattern of thinking that was most unusual to them. So, those people who naturally preferred to approach creative problems rationally, were asked to think intuitively. And the intuitive group was asked to think rationally for a change.

Participants were given a real-world problem to solve: helping a local business expand. The results were evaluated by managers from the company involved. When they looked at the results, the manipulation had worked: people were more creative when they used the thinking style that was most unusual for them.

One of the reasons this may work is that consciously adopting a different strategy stops your mind going down the same well-travelled paths. We all have habitual ways of approaching problems and while habits are sometimes useful, they can also produce the same results over and over again.
The parallel should be clear: architects (or plotters) prefer to write rationally; gardeners (or pantsers) prefer to write intuitively. You likely feel more comfortable in one mode or the other. But if your deeper goal is to write creatively you would do well to switch up your style.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. This article is from Sustainable Creativity: How to Enjoy a Committed, Long-term Relationship with your Muse. Learn more at

Image: Simon Howden /

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