Zapping Writer’s Block Away

Ever wanted to be more creative? Feeling like you just can’t come up with any good ideas? Stuck on ways to throw a curveball in your plot?

How about a jolt to the old brainwaves? Just strap on this helmet, and press that button, and your brainwaves can be remotely controlled to block out the common, dull, familiar associations. You’ll be thinking outside the box! And it takes no effort on your part! Writer’s block is a thing of the past!!

Higher levels of alpha brainwaves enable people to come up with ideas which are further away from the obvious or well-known uses.

The researchers show that stimulating the right temporal part of the brain in the alpha frequency increases the capability of inhibiting obvious links in both types of creative thinking.

This was demonstrated by applying an electrical current to the brain through a non-invasive technique called transcranial alternating current brain stimulation (tACS) which causes minimal to no side effects or sensations.

The researchers hope to understand how neural processes are integrated when solving creative problems out of the laboratory settings and whether it is possible to build stimulation devices which can monitor the brain and stimulate creativity whenever needed. Read more here…

Silly marketing copy style sensationalism aside, it’s an interesting study. I don’t think that you can simply stimulate the brain into magically producing wild creativity. There is a lot more to writing than that at least, without even touching the other creative fields. Writers are fueled by more than caffeine and cat photos. Writers need to think of it as making sausage. I’ve made sausage, and it’s delicious in the end. In the middle? Not so much. Which is where creativity comes in. You might start with a whole, but in the processing of grinding it up and transforming it from the disparate ingredients of meat, spices, salt, and fat, it’s pretty gross. Writing before editing can look a lot like that middle section of sausage.

So while we might indeed be able to stimulate brainwaves, and it would be interesting to see what came out, if you don’t start with good ingredients, by the time it’s sizzling in the pan the smell wafting toward you might be… dissonant. Writers have to figure out what the good ingredients for their particular book need to be as they go. Sure, throwing out all the familiar associations sounds good. You’ll come up with a novel novel.

How often have you read and enjoyed an ‘experimental’ novel? For that matter, experimental art? Like, say, Andy Warhol’s piss paintings? Which are fascinating chemistry (click through the link for more detail than you really want, and a twisted sense of humor) but arguable from an artistic standpoint. Look, if I’m going to strap on a helmet for some therapeutic shocks to my creative brain, I’d like to at least get paid for what I produce afterward. And while Warhol made good money, a lot of his, er, piss-alikes never made it to the level of urinal art.

Sometimes familiar associations are a good thing, even essential. Without them, the reader can feel lost and confused in an alien landscape, needing some sort of touchstone to cling to while trying to make sense of what they just stumbled into. Drug-fueled hazy dreams are rarely fun reads that leave the majority of readers willing to re-enter the writer’s creation willingly. Using familiar to set the scene, to populate a world with relatable characters, be they likeable or not, that’s an important part of a writer’s toolbox. Being creative is overrated. I definitely don’t recommend pissing on your manuscript. That’s likely to leave you in bad odor with all but the most avant-garde of editors and literary agents.

Feeling like you want to stimulate your brain, but not necessarily with that scary-looking helmet? There’s other ways to do it. Try some exercise – tai chi and yoga, both slower exercise methods which focus on breath control, elevate alpha brain waves. Select some music you enjoy, and tap into those elevated waves too. Personally, I find standing at the sink with my hands in dishwater, or driving in light traffic (country roads are nice for this) gets my brain whirring along with no need for a scene out of a horror movie. Unless that’s what lights your fire, of course.

(Header image from Pixabay)


  1. One, it is alpha waves in a specific area. Effects of frequency and intensity are somewhat location specific.

    Two, they’ve measured enough brains that this is a legitimate field of medicine now. Map the signals, and build a 3D model of the brain in terms of frequency and intensity, and you can compare against databases of healthy people. Like in other fields of medicine, asymmetries and abnormalities can be a sign of illness.

    Three, there are hard limits to the technique. Say, you are comparing to a database of people who know calculus. You don’t train someone’s brain to produce signals similar to the database, and find out they know calculus without being taught it. Knowing what to do with creativity is a skillset. With an additional skillset for knowing how to turn creativity into a specific type of art. Which is pretty much what you say.

    The creativity induction technique is interesting from the perspective of potential to increase the fraction of the population that can do creative engineering work. Of course, that likewise comes with the spectre of technocrats applying it for that end, and bungling it to the point of creating only disordered thinking.

  2. And if you want to fiddle with the alpha brainwave without electrical contact, a variable frequency strobe will do nicely. Set it to rough ten flashes per second. It’s not exact, but when you get it ‘right’ you’ll know as it feels a bit odd. It’s sort of photonic-buzz (you might have think about walking to do it without stumbling) that has the advantage that it cease when the strobe is turned off. HOWEVER.. this is also right where seizures can be triggered, so be careful. This is not perfectly safe for everybody.

  3. The amusing thing is that most of the groundbreaking data is being gathered at Johns Hopkins at night, by a bunch of neurologists using unwanted scanner time, with themselves as subjects.

    The unamusing thing is that most of our data is now only for neurologists’ brains.

  4. It’s trivially easy to produce wild creativity. The problem is SMART wild creativity. The other skills come into play by carefully selecting the one wild idea that is not stupid, and/or arranging and dressing up the wild idea so that it does not look stupid.

    1. Yeah, i have no idea why the walruses are selling their anti-matter-powered pogo stick to the halibuts. Where would they bank?

      1. I missed them. The green-and-red giraffes with trombones were fighting the good fight against the evil killer whales with rubber bands. They must have distracted me.

  5. “This was demonstrated by applying an electrical current to the brain through a non-invasive technique called transcranial alternating current brain stimulation (tACS) which causes minimal to no side effects or sensations.”

    They need to add: “…that we know of.” This sounds fabulously dangerous.

    1. Yeah, but aren’t you the guy taking at face value some research done in Isreal on some chemical compounds, with said work and the promotion of same in your country being funded by someone and someone?

      I don’t know anything about tACS, to the best of my knowledge. The techniques I’m familiar with in terms of medically useful feedback training have some effects, seem safe enough when used by competent ethical practitioners, and can have interesting side effects. tACS might be safer in some ways due to it apparently not being feedback /training/.

      Later y’all. I ain’t dead, but I may be dropping out of contact for a time. Maybe when I’m back I’ll be a bit saner and more agreeable.

      1. “Yeah, but aren’t you the guy taking at face value some research done in Isreal on some chemical compounds, with said work and the promotion of same in your country being funded by someone and someone?”

        That’s a fair criticism of what I’ve said recently. Not disagreeable at all, Bob.

        I have undisclosed access to other research that supports the Israeli research, and the numbers are so large the effect is unmistakable. Almost as large as the correlation between smoking and heart disease. I also have seen historical records and archaeology indicating the long-term use of said compound.

        OTOH the issue at hand is trans-cranial electrical stimulation, which I know a bit about from my muscle e-stim training. Applying electrical currents across the brain is generally viewed as -bad- in medical circles, there are an awful lot of ways for it to go horribly wrong, and not many for it to go right. There’s not 10,000 years of history showing it probably won’t mess you up. Its a brand new thing.

        Bio-feedback is a different thing. With bio-feedback the electrical currents of the brain are measured in fine detail with inductive sensors, and thus the brain activity is mapped. The patient then concentrates on different stimuli, such as pictures, sounds, textures etc.

        So the distinction is between measuring the brain’s electricity, and -changing- that electricity. My scary caution meter entered the yellow zone there.

        I’m prepared, as usual, to be proven wrong. ~:D

        1. Historical records and archeology do indicate long term use of the compound.

          One issue is concentration/dose, like in the case of ethyl alcohol. With ethyl alcohol, there are apparent differences with regard to societal impact with changes in technology that either increase the concentration, or make high concentration available cheaper. See distillation, and later on cheap gin. With modern chemistry, there are loads and loads of things we can make cheaper and more concentrated than any historical usage pattern. I think we should probably be extremely cautious of most chemicals and combinations of chemicals, without regard for historical usage patterns at lower doses, or with a different mix of related chemicals. At least when it comes to alteration of brain chemistry.

          Neuro feedback training does, or at least can, alter the electrical activity of the brain. It can be pretty powerful in helpful ways, which probably means it can be powerful in harmful ways if misused.

          If you train the brain to exhibit this ‘creativity’ area/frequency/power, you can have a couple bad things happen. You can maybe make it difficult to turn off outside of the experiment. You can maybe train the wrong thing, or train they right target but by robbing function from other parts of the brain. So, all other things being the same, a temporary stimulation might be safer than training when it comes to this sort of experiment.

          But all other things are not the same. I’m thinking a bit more clearly now, and I think you are right to have fundamental questions about the safety of the technology. Which technology I don’t know from Adam. It is possible that I might one day become convinced it is safe, but I’m mostly impressed now with how much we don’t know about electricity, the body, and the brain. And anyone who likes the animes I do could probably probably stand to be better read on this stuff.

  6. Here, have a (short?) story idea.
    Reverse karma, when the protagonist does something good, something equally bad happens to them. When he / she does something bad, something equally good happens to them.
    Cuts someone off while driving, finds a good parking spot.
    Finds and returns some cash, loses something of equal value.
    Try’s being nice, people are rude back.
    Helps someone, no one around when they need help.
    Etc. etc..
    Does not want to be evil, or miserable from being good.
    Maybe the reaction does not happen all the time, but cannot figure out when the reaction will occur.

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