How Computers Hinder Creativity

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The computer is a wonderful invention, but sometimes it can be more of a hindrance than a help. I’m not even talking about how distracting the internet is. We’ve all experienced how time sucking Facebook or YouTube can be, and they’re certainly not to be discredited for their part in the procrastination problem. But the whole process of sitting down to work at a computer is fraught with problems. We’ve all opened Word documents only to be met with writers block, or created a new blog post only to find that we’ve got nothing to say. And I think it’s something to do with the computer and the way we think.

When I open a blank Word document, my brain automatically thinks ‘Oh, it’s time to write now. I’m going to churn out a few thousand words and be super productive.’ My fingers rest on the keys and I’m ready to go. But nine times out of ten, I haven’t a clue what I’m actually going to write about, just this vague idea that I should be working on something. And that’s where the problem comes in. My brain connects ‘computer’ with ‘work’, not ‘idea generating’. So it takes quite a while (and many internet breaks) for it to have even one thought worth committing to the page.

When I first started editing my books, one of the things I learned early on was that I do my best brainstorming away from the computer. I take my notebook (made of paper) and my pen (with real ink) and leave the computer and its busy-bee mentality behind. Leaving the computer, it’s easier to give myself leave to think creatively and come up with strange and wonderful concepts than it is when I’m sitting in a space where I’m pressuring myself to come up with an idea, any idea, just so I can get on and start the writing I know I’m here for.

The desk is where it all comes together; all that brainstorming, turning over of ideas, and generating of a plan. But without that plan and that creative time away from the desk, writing can be incredibly difficult. The computer is an amazing tool, and I’m certainly glad that I have one. But it can also exert a huge amount of pressure on us writers to be creative, to have amazing ideas. And creativity under pressure is hard to come by. So, if you’re drawing a blank on what to write, step away from the computer. Take your pen and paper and just relax. Doodle, write down random thoughts, muse on the science of pizza cravings, anything that will relax your mind and leave it open to new ideas. And when those ideas arrive, the computer will be waiting to help you turn those amazing concepts into reality.

What do you do when you’re brainstorming? How do you conquer the fear of the blank page? Do you, like me, find it hard to generate ideas when sitting at the computer?

Also, this week on Facebook I’m having a CreativeBlitz. Basically I’m dedicating this entire week to working on my creative projects, such as editing, music, and the like. Why not hop over to Facebook and join in? Or just check out what I’m doing this week. I’d love to see you there!

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15 comments

  1. YES. YES YES YES. I am the exact same when it comes to writing! When still figuring out the major parts in a novel I stay far, far away from the computer. I find that hand writing things also helps with coming up with new ideas, as I tend to take it slower and really think things through. It's good to see someone who feels the same way!

    Emily | Lynde Avenue

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    1. It can be so helpful just to slow down and take your time when you're first brainstorming, can't it? there's something so conducive to ideas generating about just sitting quietly with a pen and paper, no pressure to fill a white screen. It's funny how a blank sheet of paper is less intimidating than a Word document, isn't it?

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  2. That writing thing! Yes, I have problems with that, too. If I'm doing NaNoWriMo and I finish writing everything from my notebook though, I end up writing on my laptop, which is hard, but you got to do what you have to do to survive the November of writing.

    xoxo Morning

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    1. NaNoWriMo is the worst time to be uninspired, isn't it? I've taken to planning my books a month in advance so that I have enough knowledge of the book to get me through the difficult books. But you're totally right. Anything to get through NaNo.

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  3. Great post! I have that problem all the time. I find that to start a project, the best way is to pull out a notebook and start it there, because my brain knows that if I have a notebook it has to come up with ideas (either that or it over heats)

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    1. I guess it's got a lot to do with brain triggers. Brains seem to equate computers with work and paper with ideas. It's so much easier to manage the brainstorming sessions once you know how your mind works, isn't it?

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  4. Loved this post! Just came across your blog and I love it so much! You've just got yourself a new daily reader :D

    ~Noor
    a little bit of sunshine

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    1. Thank you Noor! You made my day today.

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  5. I totally understand this feeling, Imogen. I always need to brainstorm on paper in my notebook, where I can make a mess in ink and pencil and not worry about making it perfect. It's also really nice to see the pages stack up as you fill them. Then, I can get back to the computer for drafting. It's a process that I find really helpful.

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    1. The mess of using paper and pencil is half the fun isn't it? Knowing it doesn't have to look fun, and it doesn't even have to be in great handwriting. There's a great sense of freedom comes from the creative mess that comes with ideas gathering, a mess you simply don't get on the computer screen. It's great that you know your process so well. I'm afraid I keep forgetting these simple truths.

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  6. You know, I never really thought about it that way before. Oh I know the computer is terrible for me, but your association with it of 'work' strikes a chord. I think I've been feeling that way far more in the last few years, and working at the computer has just become less and less effective for me.

    The usual reason I try to use my pad when I'm running out of ideas is because apparently the movement and connection you have using a pen or pencil and actually writing, is associated with creation and that, coupled with the fact that you can trace every movement that creates something on the page, helps ideas flow a lot better.

    I do wish I had an electronic pad though. Whenever I get to putting things back on to the computer I start to feel reluctant again :p

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    1. The very act of physically tracing the idea on a page has a special feeling to it, doesn't it? Like a connection that you can't get when repeating the same actions of pressing computer keys over and over again. I had an epiphany about the computer and this mental block when I couldn't get any ideas until the moment I left the computer. Literally, I walked out my door and there was the idea. The hard thing really is getting the ideas from the paper, isn't it? That's why all my brainstorming is scattered throughout a million notebooks. I can't be bothered copying the ideas down onto the computer. An electronic pad would definitely solve that problem.

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    2. They're coming soon! They have electronic pads with character recognition (so you can just handwrite naturally) that are just past sort of 1st edition phase in Japan. They're pretty expensive, but once the thing really gets on the market, we might truly be able to write....in e-ink! :D

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  7. As always, excellent post. I do find that I want to open a blank document and type some amazing straight away, and if I don't, I get grumpy. e_e When I chill in Costa with a friend and my notepad, I write without the high expectations. Writing becomes therapeutic again.

    For me, the best way to brainstorm is to go for a walk and take just my music with me. That always gets my brain soaring and never fails me. It's taking me a little while to get round to your posts (LOADS of bloggers' posts actually) because I've been busy, but I haven't forgotten you c: I hope your facebook CreativeBlitz went well! I don't know if I mentioned already, but last week I started a meme for writers called Fiction Friday (< link) and you might be interested.

    Keep up the great posts! Especially the writing to music posts, they're quickly becoming my favourites.

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    1. Music is amazing for generating ideas, isn't it? I've often found the same as you, when I go for walks with music, I come back with loads of ideas. My phone and ipod have documents full of random ideas generated this way. It's good to get away from the pressure of the screen and rediscover how fun writing and being creative can be, isn't it? I forget sometimes, when I've been struggling away on the computer for a while, just how much I truly love writing.

      I totally understand, and it's so nice of you to catch up with my posts, especially when you're busy. And wow, thanks! I'm ever so glad you like them. I really enjoy writing the music posts, so it's wonderful to hear that you're enjoying them.

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