Distraction free writing

When you’re using a computer it’s ver easy to get distracted, that’s why Write Room and Scriveners Full Screen mode are useful. Here’s a trick which I started to use long time ago. I simply actvate a text editor and set the brightness of the monitor to zero (which is easy to do on a Macbook using the F1 key, thus showing a black screen). Then I’m free to type without seeing what I type. The rationale behind this is that when you don’t see what you write then the Editor (the left brain) can’t criticize the Creator (the right brain). I usually write by using an Egg-clock appliaction (I use Fob) and set the egg-clock to 10 minutes (or sometimes 30 minutes). If you’ve never experienced writing this way, test it :wink:. Chances are that your productivity will take a quantum leap.

Very interesting, Bob. My current project, a thesis, wouldn’t work with this at all, but I’ll definitely bookmark it for a someday-in-the-future scenario.

It’s a wonderful way to churn out the words.

I agree, anything that turns off the Editor, while drafting, gets you more draft.

Sadly, this doesn’t work for me. While writing I keep skimming the written text - not for errors, I even disable the spell-checker while writing - but to see if the words I wrote did indeed shape the story to my liking.

It does work for a short paragraph, though.

That’s exactly what you should avoid when doing the reflection-free writing. Reflection-free means not reflecting, writing and letting it rip, not trying to see if the words you write is to your liking.

Who is doing the judging? Who is deciding if what you wrote is to your liking? The Editor (your left brain) is, it is his favorite occupation!

Reflection-free writing means letting go of control. Letting the Creator (the right brain) do its work without interfering, without trying to judge if what you write is to your liking or not. For the left brain that is scary. It does not want to let go of control.

In her book “Drawing on the right side of the Brain”, Betty Edwards shows how people can draw wonderful drawings if they just let go of left brains judging and controlling. She has a lot of tricks to get the left brain out of the way. One trick is to draw upside-down. That deactivates the left brain because it’s an unfamiliar situation for it (it can’t say, this is the eyes and I know what eyes look like). That gives room for the right brain to come in and do its reasoning (this area is dark, this line looks like a belly of a fat man and so on).

The results are striking. But afterwards the people who made the drawing, look at the drawing in disbelief. Yes, it looks wonderful, but I didn’t do it, they claim. And they are right, their left brain did not do the drawing, their right brain did. The only mistake in their reasoning is that they think that their mind (left brain) is all that they are, which of course is false.

Reflection-free writing can be very useful. Some caution is needed, though, with descriptions of the creative process (or anything else) in terms of brain lateralisation. I don’t want to cause offence, but as a scientist I worry about this kind of popular myth about science.

Lateralisation of certain functions is a genuine phenomenon, but it is only statistically true, that is, true on average of the human population. There’s no general guarantee that any particular function that is typically connected more with (say) the left hemisphere of the brain is going to be taking place in the left hemisphere of a particular individual’s brain.
So pop psychology books which urge us to use one hemisphere or another at a certain time are guilty of considerable oversimplification at best.

One more thing: language ability is subserved mostly by the left side of the brain in about 90% of people (the percentage is lower for left-handers, higher for right-handers). So in any form of linguistic ability, including writing, for most people the left side of the brain will be heavily involved. It’s hard to reconcile that with the claim that creativity takes place in the right-brain, assuming that language use can be creative (and we wouldn’t be in this forum if we didn’t make that assumption…). That doesn’t mean that you can’t draft in a creative, non-reflective rush: you can, because it’s not really true that the left brain is the editor and the right brain the creator.

The exercises in books like Edwards’ may be very good for creativity (I don’t know, not having tried), but not because the descriptions of what is going on neurologically are accurate.

Thanks, nicka, you’re of course right :slight_smile:. My use of left brain right brain is purely metaphorical, and should not be taken literally. I do though think that there are different centra in our brain that do compete for dominance, and there are plenty of scientific evidence of that fact. The Editor-Creator model is a model and very useful one. (A model is a simplified picture of reality, if an observer can draw conclusions about the reality by studying the picture).
The three stage model for development of a child that Jean Piaget made popular was that kind of a model, (although Jerome Bruner and others later showed that there are brain centra that get activated when the child gets older and older). Just because a model is not proved by scientific measurement does not render it useless. Models by Shinichi Suzuki (Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education), Timothy Gallway (Inner Game of Tennis), and others have proved very useful, although a scientist would label them as “pop psychology”. I’m looking for good and useful models, more then, trying to label things.

I have nothing against science, being a scientist for many years myself, but I do not think that science has all the good answers on this planet, and that all other things are rubbish. I did tend to think so in my younger years but books like “The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig destroyed that belief. I do agree that there are a lot of junk books in the popular psychology field, but there are also very good and useful books (just like there are good books and junk books in the science field. Don’t take my word for it, read Feynman and see what I mean).

Like you say above, it depends of what you’re after - To understand creativity or to experience creativity. If your primary aim is to understand creativity in scientific terms then you are quite right, the description is not “neurologically accurate”. But if your aim is to experience creativity then you don’t care if the description is “neurologically accurate”, as long as it works and produces results :slight_smile:.

You are right again :wink:. Non-reflective rush is just one way of writing creatively, not THE only way. But still it’s a way and if it works by using such tricks as setting the brightness of the monitor to zero, why not try it.

Thanks again, for pointing out and clarifying.

I’m glad I didn’t annoy you, bobueland. Since you are/were a scientist you surely don’t need my preachy remarks.

It’s just that I worry that some people – not scientists – take stuff that sounds like neurology too uncritically: right/left brain stuff and really silly stuff like the weird one about people only using 10% of their brains.

I agree. If you want to know about human nature, you’re better off with Dostoevsky than a psychology course. (Also better off studying psychology than neurology, given the relative states of those subjects, but that’s a separate issue.)

What worries me a bit is when it’s hard to tell whether someone is talking scientifically or not. I think it’s important to know the limits of each field – and that goes for science as well. I hate it when a perfectly respectable piece of research about brain activation is written up in the media as though it answers metaphysical questions about love, or beauty.

The reality, I think, is that scientists don’t know much about the tricky questions – and where ideas come from is one of the trickiest. So if doing certain exercises helps with creativity no one can reasonably object. Actually if some technique helps with creativity, then it’s probably worth studying how it works – with the proviso that the explanation may be quite different from the one that the inventor of the technique is pushing.

By the way, when you wrote:

… I’m guessing that you meant that Feynman is one of the good ones. His lectures on physics got me through some nasty exams. (Just about.) One of the things that is very good about his didactic work is that it is scrupulously honest: he never presents a simplification as though it were the whole truth. In popular writing about physics, that seems to me to be the exception, not the rule.

Yes, he’s one of the best. I have his lectures in both printed and audio form. He has also written non-scientific books, describing his adventures in a very funny way. Read for instance “Surely you joking Mr Feynman” :slight_smile:. But what I meant is that he discusses many so called science book, that are not good at all. He tells very explicitly why they are rubbish.

I can heartily recommend Bob’s approach, not only for writing, but for just about
any creative activity. I urge those of you who say “It won’t work for me” to give it
a try. What can you lose? Between 10 and 30 minutes? You may be surprised at
what you are able to achieve in those few minutes.

There is a great deal of scientific and anecdotal evidence that strongly suggests
that anything we can do to turn of the judge (not forever, but during the idea
generation phase of the creative process) will produce dramatic results. You’ll get
more ideas, better ideas, more of the time.

Several chapters of my new book, Think Better, discuss this principle. I call it
“Separate Your Thinking”. I guarantee it works.

Thanks so much for this Bob.


And when you point them at Snopes and request that they question their sources before forwarding something that is easily shown wrong within 10 seconds of typing into Google, they turn around and ask you why you trust some random website?

I do think a lot of people use only 10% of their brains, but that’s not a biological limitation, it’s just because they don’t think…

(oh wait, do I sound sour?)


I do think that the actual writing occurs after the ‘creative process’.
It’s a bit like, let’s say, building a house. Get a pen, some paper - and you can start designing the house you are about to build. This part of house building I would call the creative part. The actual building is ‘just’ getting the right tools and materials and assemble the pieces.
Just like writing - for me, that is.
So while I am trying to hit the right keys on my keyboards it is more like selecting the right material - words, in this context - and the right phrases, grammar, style and so on - my tools. The story I am about to write is mostly finished but not yet translated into text.

A few years ago I was asked by a big, household name blue chip client to spend four or five days at a major conference of theirs to which they’d summoned their 50 or so top directors and a bunch of management consultants to workshop a strategy to double their share price.

My role, and the half dozen other ‘creatives’ (all on hefty day rates) was to drop in and out of the sessions, get the gist, and come up with a plan by the end of the week for an exciting, innovative way to communicate this strategy to their international work force. We got to sit through some of the most agonising death by Powerpoint I’ve ever endured before convening in the bar and trying to figure out how to sell the strategy to people who didn’t really know what a share was and anyhow would ultimately be sacked in the course of raising its value.

We came up with the ‘Experience Room’ - in fact a series of rooms through which staff walked symbolising different stuff about the company and ultimately ending up in a bright new world demonstrating the glorious future. A load of old bollocks, in short, but what the client was asking for.

On the fifth day, the company employee we were working to, stood up in front of the top dozen directors of this major company, all jaded and knackered from five days of management consultant abstractions. He pitched The Experience Room to them.

Long, long, long silence.

Then a sigh from one of the directors.

‘I suppose’, she said ‘It must be a right brain thing.’

Nothing ever came of The Experience Room.

Still, Zikade, what would be the risk in trying Bob’s idea? How can you know it won’t
work for you unless you actually try it? I must confess I find it amazing that sometimes
the people most resistant to new ideas are the “creatives”. I’ve often seen people
spend more time arguing against trying a new idea than it would have taken to simply
try it in the first place.


LOL! Made my morning! Thanks, spinningdoc!


Writing has a creative part and an editing part. For me the creative process is the hard one, what comes after is easier. The reflection free writing is a good idea only on the creative part.

People write using different strategies and from what hear from you Zikade, might suggest that you might benefit from the method described in Jeff Bollow’s book “Writing FAST, How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed”. He describes a four phase method, where the first two parts have to do with the creative part and the two last have to do with the editing part.

Despite its title Bollows’s book does not work for anyone and every kind of writing, but I do think it works for someone who already has done the creative process more or less, and just wants to nail it down :slight_smile:.

Just for fun. Look at the image below for a few seconds. Then turn you head so that you look at the image upside down. Do you observe any difference of how you perceive the image? Which of the persons would you more like to meet in a lonely forest at night?


Guess I flunked out both as creative person and as good teacher. In either (or any) orientation, what I see is just a picture of a face with some of the features inverted.

Am I looking too close, or not close enough?

Follow-up, after picture change:

Sorry… different dude, different copy, same reaction. I understand the intended response, but at the deliberate level. Nothing happens at the gut level. Maybe I spend too much time with Graphic Converter.

BTW, doesn’t a mid-stream modification of the data tend to compromise final conclusions?

I need to take more drugs.


You would have a valid point if your assumption of me not trying it would be correct (sorry for this kind of sentence - my english grammar seems to be offline for now). As I stated before, for me it is useful for some short paragraphs. I just wanted to point out that I do usually work in a different way - mostly, that is. It is always fascinating to see how other people have their own - sometimes unique - processes.

I seem to have a third stage - or some kind of psychosis. So, we have the creative stage, in which I normally gather ideas and concepts and use an awfull lot of notes to keep track of may ideas - kind of a brainstorming session. Afterwards I often write a treatment - one or two pages; touching all the major developments, there I normally just start typing without ever looking at what I wrote - in fact quite similar to what bob is talking about. :slight_smile:

At this point I hopefully have the full story made up in my mind. That’s the easy part - I haven’t really done much yet. The hard part is what I have christened the ‘Translation Process’ - translating the story from my mind into words. The shape of the story has been fixed before but the gruesome part of dissecting the whole thing to a couple of letters in a row is irritating at best. Up to this point the whole story has been alive and kicking, now it’s frozen.

Afterwards its more like mopping up the remaining pieces, rearranging things here or there. Not much working to be done, but it takes time.