Wired to Create is one of those books that took me a while to get through. On one hand, I enjoyed delving into the neuroscience behind the traits and behaviours creative people have, whilst on the other, it took some time to absorb the information. At first glance, the book doesn’t seem so taxing – it is broken into clear sections, with plenty of evidence and a few case studies to illustrate each trait.
The traits range from openness to experience, to sensitivity, whilst the behaviours range from imaginative play to solitude. Some of these traits seem like opposites – for example openness to experience might seem at odds with solitude, yet all these behaviours and traits feed into each other in different ways.
‘In embracing a creative way of living, we bloom into the expansiveness of our own being and our beautiful human complexity. We give ourselves permission to embody those glorious multitudes that Whitman spoke of. So go ahead–contradict yourself! Be serious and playful, practical and romantic, sensitive and strong, a dreamer and a doer. As Whitman said, we exist as we are, and that is ‘enough’.’
The thread that runs through the book is the observation that creative people have messy minds, and tend to have messy processes. Behaviours such as engaging in imaginative play and daydreaming are ways that we allow our minds to wander, make new connections, come up with different ideas, concepts, images, and worlds. These two behaviours help us to harness all the observations and thoughts that fly through our brains, and the emotional reactions we have to things can be funnelled into creative work.
Traits such as sensitivity, being a highly sensitive person (HSP), allow us to observe the world and our experiences in detail, noticing things that other people might not notice, and making connections between things that don’t seem to connect. Mindfulness is a way for us to be simultaneously present and yet exploring the inner workings of our subconscious, through new ways of meditating (specifically non-directive meditation, which allows for exploration of the imagination).
‘The data are clear: To activate your brain’s imagination network, try practicing an open-monitoring or nondirective form of meditation, which allows for constructive mind wandering whilst also boosting attention. Further research has suggested that, in addition to activating the imagination network and facilitating divergent thinking, one of the key ways these meditation practices boost creativity is by cultivating observation skills.’
Wired to Create doesn’t merely outline all these things, it goes in depth with research carried out by the authors and citing and exploring other people’s research. For example, rather than staying on the surface with what might seem like clichéd traits or behaviours (such as ‘follow your passion’), they go further by investigating whether there is a better way to harness them rather than the ‘usual’ way. When discussing passion, they go beyond just stating that passion is an important ingredient in creativity; they consider that there are two ways to use it.
One of them is the ‘bad’ kind, leading to burnout – obsessive – whilst the other – harmonious – seeks to use passion with effort, being in control of your passions and being at one with them, rather than ‘following’ your passions. When writing about imaginative play, they break down the walls between ‘work’ and ‘play’ by suggesting that we have created a false dichotomy, and that to be happy with our work, we need to be able to develop a way of working that uses elements of play and imagination. We solve problems better when we are free to imagine outcomes and dream up new ideas.
‘And truly, maintaining a spirit of play keeps creativity and vitality alive as we get older. […] play and intrinsic joy are intimately connected, creating a synergy that naturally leads to greater inspiration, effort, and creative growth. So go ahead–dance, paint, explore a new place, be silly, and have fun. You just might find that it gets your creative juices flowing!’
As an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP), I found this book heartening, because it explores how sensitivity and openness to experience may seem like they belong on opposite sides of the spectrum, yet feed into each other in various ways. Openness to experience is generally associated with extroversion within popular psychology, but here, it is discussed as meaning openness to new ideas, a thirst for knowledge, for the thrill of the chase of that knowledge. Creativity is led by a desire to understand some aspect of the human experience, to go deeper, to try and find meaning. Sensitivity feeds into this by being highly attuned to subtleties, to things unnoticed, to emotion and depth. Harnessing both of these traits mean that you have the tools to notice and then to discover knowledge about the experience.
One of the last sections of the book focuses on turning adversity into advantage. Life is a learning process – we learn from our heartaches, from our losses, from what is happening in the world around us. Some of the most powerful pieces of writing, art, theatre, and scientific breakthroughs have come to us through people’s experiences with adversity in life. For example, Frida Kahlo’s work is only fully understood when you know the pain she has experienced, physically and emotionally. Through her work, we understand more about what it means to live with physical pain and how women (and men) can survive even the worst emotional and mental experiences. Her work gives people hope, and comfort, as well as being stunning examples of surrealistic art.
Often, writers explore their difficult experiences through the filter of fiction, or through writing essays and poems. Stories can be a great source of comfort and where we can learn to empathise with or understand the diverse experiences of humans. We can also heal ourselves through creating art of all kinds.
‘Knowing loss, struggle, suffering, and defeat is crucial to the positive disintegration process and acts as a catalyst for personal growth, creativity, and deep transformation. Rather than something to be avoided or denied, it is the hardships and challenges–both internal and external–that make us beautiful.’
Wired to Create is an essential book for all kinds of creative people, and people who may feel in need of more creativity in their lives. I found it revealing, inspiring, thoughtful, reassuring, and most of all – a call to my own inner creative to continue doing the work, playing, imagining, and witnessing. One of my favourite quotes by Walt Whitman is used at the beginning and end of the book, and perfectly encapsulates what it means to be human, with our messy minds and messy creative lives:
‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).’ – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.