Where does creativity come from?
Screenwriters may ask themselves this from time to time, but it may be worth asking more often. If you know what creates creativity, you can create more of it.
Conventional wisdom has it that creative, emotional thought is based in the right hemisphere of the brain. Well, it just so happens that conventional wisdom is wrong.
Modern brain imaging shows that the division of labor is not so neat and tidy. Researchers now say that most tasks, including creative thought, are performed by “networks” of neurons that span both hemispheres.
The networks that most concern us are the imagination network, the executive attention network, and the salience network. Each one corresponds to a different area of the brain and a different step in the creative process.
The Imagination Network
In the brain picture above, this network is marked in red. It is also known as the default network because it corresponds to the “random chatter” that goes on in your brain when you’re not focused on a task.
In the first step of the creative process, it is important to engage this network by turning off your inner critic. Daydream and free-associate to your heart’s content. This will give you a wealth of creative ideas. Not all of them will be useful, but you shouldn’t judge them until moving onto the next step.
The Executive Attention Network
This network is marked in green. It is what focuses you on a specific task. It might also be called your “inner critic,” a logical network that tells you which ideas are useful and which are not.
After you’re done free-associating, the next step in the creative process is to engage this network. Stop daydreaming and focus on the ideas you’ve already generated. Think logically about the viability of each and cut accordingly.
The Salience Network
This network is marked in yellow in the picture above. It acts as a kind of “switch” that looks outward at the world and tells your brain which of the other two networks to activate at any given time.
This might be the revision step of the creative process, the one where you compare your writing to your external experience. You might show your screenplay to other people. This will tell you whether you need to engage the imagination network to generate new ideas, or engage the executive attention network to cull what you already have.
So there you have it; the modern view of how creativity arises in the brain. Of course, this model might also be overturned someday. That’s why you need to keep asking yourself, “Where does creativity come from?”