Good News on Creative Frustration

Silhouette of girl and doveA couple of years ago I read a really interesting book titled Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. The book explores the neuroscience behind creativity and affirmed what I have long insisted that creativity is capacity we are all born with. It is part of the natural workings of our brains, though it is something we have to learn to use, exercise and work at.

Lehrer tells the fascinating story of Bob Dylan, who in 1965, already a folk music icon with songs like Blowing in the Wind and The Times They Are A Changing to his name, decides after a grueling four month tour that he is done with singing and songwriting. He is sick of his music and the expectations that being in the spotlight have placed on him. He told his manager he was done and meant it. He rode his motorcycle to his cabin in Woodstock, New York and didn’t even bring his guitar.

The book goes on to consider what can happen in the brain when we are faced with creative frustration. We tend to fail to recognize that the frustration that pushes us to stop, let go and feel hopeless can be part of the creative process, can lead to revelation and rebirth. When we are stumped and let go a part of us can be quietly rummaging through the creative part of our mind, our right hemisphere, looking to give birth to something new.

After a few days alone in his cabin, relieved to the need to write another song, thinking he was going to start work on a novel, Dylan felt as Lehrer describes it “the tickle of lyrics that needed to written down”, something that needed to be said. Once he began he wrote a song twenty pages long unlike anything he had ever done and he had the awareness that this is what he needed to being doing. The lyrics didn’t make sense. Dylan said it felt like they were being written by a “ghost” and all he needed to do was get out of the way.

Lehrer suggests based on current scientific awareness of how the brain works that “the ghost” was the right hemisphere of Dylan’s brain pulling together the threads connecting the diversity and richness of all of Dylan’s many influences and weaving them into something new. The song begun in Woodstock and recorded July 15, 1965 was Like A Rolling Stone. It revolutionized rock and roll.

Like A Rolling Stone has always been one of my favorite songs and it moves me still to listen to it, so I was especially intrigued and amazed by Dylan’s story which serves as a fantastic reminder that frustration, hitting the wall and letting go can be an important part of the creative process. It creates an awareness of the importance of listening to the “ticklings” of our heart and soul and right hemisphere of brain after we have let go. It inspires me knowing I can have a new relationship with the times I feel in my own creativity that I am not going anywhere. And I like to think that creativity includes everything including the way we live and create our lives so that I can look at frustration in a whole new way wherever it occurs in my life.

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2 Responses »

  1. I love the phrase “the tickle of lyrics that need to be written down”! That is exactly the feeling as the creativity begins to stir within. I have been pondering the writing process for myself – I often feel that I did not write the words on the page. It is as thought they come through me rather than from me. I had not considered the words could be coming from the right hemisphere of my brain. Very interesting food for thought.

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    suzanne Reply:

    Thanks for this comment. Yes I too in all my years of writing usually feel that the words are coming through me rather than from me. So I too was intrigue by the neuroscience showing that the right hemisphere lights up and is very active during this kind of creative event. And as Einstein said “the universe is more complex than we think because it is more complex than we can think” I like to think there is still room for the mystery on this one. Don’t you?

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