The Psychology of Writing

This typically fascinating post on BrainPickings reflects on the psychology of writing and its implications for the notion that a fixed writing routine is most conducive to creativity and productivity. The argument certainly seems plausible yet I remain ambivalent about too much fixity in relation to writing, without really being able to articulate why. Read the full post here.

Reflecting on the ritualization of creativity, Bukowski famously scoffed that “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with.” Samuel Johnson similarly contended that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”And yet some of history’s most successful and prolific writers were women and men of religious daily routines and odd creative rituals. (Even Buk himself ended up sticking to a peculiar daily routine.)

Such strategies, it turns out, may be psychologically sound and cognitively fruitful. In the altogether illuminating 1994 volume The Psychology of Writing (public library), cognitive psychologist Roland T. Kellogg explores how work schedules, behavioral rituals, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in a state ofboredomanxiety, or creative flow

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Location and physical environment also play a role in maintaining a sustained and productive workflow. Bob Dylan, for instance, extolled the virtues of being able to “put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind.” Reviewing the research, Kellogg echoes Faulkner’s memorable assertion that “the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost” and notes that writers’ dedicated workspaces tend to involve solitude and quiet, although “during the apprenticeship phase of a writer’s career, almost any environment is workable” — most likely a hybrid function of youth’s high tolerance for distraction and the necessity of sharing space earlier in life when the luxury of privacy is unaffordable.

But the key psychological function of such dedicated environments isn’t so much superstitious ritualization — an effort to summon the muse through the elaborate juju of putting everything in its right place — as cognitive cueing. Kellogg considers the usefulness of a special space used solely for writing, which cultivates an “environment that cues the desired behavior”


Categories: Sociological Craft

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  1. Extremely interesting lecture by john cleese on oases of creativity and some comments:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu2oOrBkVoQ
    http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/john-cleeses-philosophy-of-creativity-creating-oases-for-childlike-play.html
    “Oasis effects” can occur in various places such as taking a shower or walking. They do not have to be solitary, for example the inventor of the Polaroid camera had the idea when talking to his young daughter on holiday.

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