Like many people, I get ear worms all the time. Several mornings a week, I wake up with a song in my head. Granted, that may in part be due to the fact that I have my alarm set to play a random song each day. However, the ear worm doesn't necessarily coincide with my wake-up song. For instance, this morning's wake-up song was Mr. Brightside by The Killers, which is a song that has frequented my list of Ear Worm Greatest Hits. But that was not the song that popped into my brain and ran on repeat while I picked up the kitchen after breakfast. Nope. That honor goes to the opening lick for The Ocean by Led Zeppelin, a song that continues to frustrate me with it's changing time signatures.
We've all seen the memes in our news feeds, and I follow the Showerthoughts sub on Reddit. Some are silly, some are unique, and some can be quite profound. My shower thoughts tend to come in the form of character names, short strings of alliteration, and first lines to poems. The name of the protagonist for my novel Broken Blue Willow came to me in the shower. There have been several instances when a great idea comes to me in the shower and I'm afraid I'll forget it, so I'll jump out dripping wet and scramble for a pen and paper to capture the genius idea. Maybe I should get one of these:
I had never heard the term "mind-pop" before I searched online with the phrase "ideas that pop into your head". (I couldn't think of a term for it, or thought maybe I'd forgotten the term, so thanks again Google.)
I came across a great 2012 article on the subject from Scientific American on the topic of the mind-pop phenomenon.
Mind-pops are more often words or phrases than images or sounds and they usually happen when someone is in the middle of a habitual activity that does not demand much concentration—perhaps when they are brushing their teeth or tying their shoes. Most notably, identifying a trigger for a mind-pop in the surrounding environment or even in previous thoughts is extremely difficult—they seem to come out of nowhere.
Mind-pops occur when the brain is "primed" by previous information to make a connection to the current situation. Sort of like linking the smell of new crayons to a memory from your Kindergarten year. The article goes on to say that when mind-pops occur frequently in certain people, it could encourage creativity. The author called these people "super-primers", those who are really adept at collecting ideas and making connections.
I experienced a more immediate form of mind-pop yesterday while folding laundry. I had all the windows in the house wide open because there was a gorgeous breeze outside after days of stifling humidity. A strong gust blew through my bedroom and slammed a door shut. Immediately, I thought "Windows open on a windy day..." which led me to think about how we'd always say it must be a ghost, which led me to formulate a quick flash poem.
Windows open on a windy day
The first line ran through my mind over and over again, like an ear worm, until I wrote it down. My brain had collected information from the past and present and connected the ideas into a short poem which dogged me until it became a physical manifestation.
I recently read the poem Portent by William Carlos Williams, in which the first line reads: "Red cradle of the night..." and I immediately recognized it as a mind-pop idea, or a shower thought. I imagined that Williams must have crafted the poem around it, just like I did with mine.
Brains are cool.
From reading the above article, I also learned another new term:
Combinatorial Creativity: The ability to create new combinations from existing resources is a powerful force for creativity and innovation. By recombining ideas, materials and practices, new and potentially unknown possibilities can emerge.
I'm often asked how I come up with my ideas, and how I have so many ideas. People say I'm "so creative", and some comment that they "don't have a creative bone" in their body. I don't believe that to be the case at all . I believe everyone has the power of creativity within them. For some, the ability to recognize and make connections between ideas is a natural talent, at first. However, with use and practice, the natural talent can become a skill.
In a way, this means that there is no such thing as a truly unique thought or idea. If creators are collecting preexisting concepts and making connections, then nothing is original. Creative people don't understand what all the fuss is about. It doesn't feel like a mystery. It's just how we work, how our brains work.
That's why when someone asks me how I can be so creative, I tend to shrug it off.
Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Now that I better understand the inner workings of my creative mind, I am hyper-aware of when I'm making these idea connections. When I notice a mind-pop combined with an ear worm and even a shower thought, I sit back and allow the magic to happen with a deep sense of mindfulness and fascination. It's almost like realizing you have a superpower.
Super-Primer Woman? Maybe? No?
I write novels and poetry and this blog.