[Me hard at work, courtesy of The Boy]

On the most recent episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, spoke of a lesser known scientific principle:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand, for example when you’re showering . . . if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering or putting [as in golf], then another part of the brain, the anterior superior temporal gyrus is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.

I wondered, giddy with excitement, how I had not heard of this enlightening principle. Then I remembered, Jack Donaghy is a fictional character and even in the fictitious world of 30 Rock his theories and practices are generally suspect. Not to mention, that last bit of the “scientific” principle (which I’m willing to bet was developed by Dr. Spaceman) is obvious nonsense. And yet, I still wanted to believe in The Shower Principle. I even googled it, just to be sure. I am telling you now, to save you some time, it is not a real thing (For a correction and UPDATE please see this post: “The Shower Principle Revisited”). However, I did find some interesting information (here and here) on a study by Jackie Andrade, that indicates you will pay better attention during a boring meeting or class if you doodle. (You’re welcome for that useful tip.)

So why, you may be asking yourself, was I so desperate for The Shower Principle to be true? Because . . . that is exactly how I get the inspiration for my manuscript. My very first idea came when I was driving and over the next two years all of my ideas came as I sat at my job sticking bar codes on thousands of DNA samples for hours at a time. It became such a regular thing that I wouldn’t move to my DNA “station” without taking my writing notebook with me. I even worried when I left my job, to move to Chicago, that I wouldn’t have that magic window into my imagination any longer. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that inspiration can happen anywhere at any time, I just have to be doing something mundane, mindless or repetitive. Driving, riding my bicycle, knitting, cleaning, cooking and yes, showering too. If I am doing a task over an extended period of time, (it usually has to be something that is almost second nature and does not require intense concentration) I am almost always struck by inspiration about scenes, dialogue, and characters. Then when I finally have a chance to sit down to write, I use that inspiration I developed while under the influence of “the shower principle.” It may not yet have scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing. If I have writer’s block I just have to go into my kitchen, turn on some music and start chopping vegetables. Within minutes my problem is solved. And based on the doodling study, it makes sense scientifically (although I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of how the brain works.) The theoretical reason doodling helps you pay better attention is because it occupies your mind so that you can’t daydream. Jackie Andrade explained:

It takes a large cognitive load to daydream. That has a big impact on the task you’re meant to be doing. Doodling takes only a small cognitive load, but it’s just enough to keep your mental resources focused on the main task.

Using that logic, if you take away the doodling, you’re left to daydream which is exactly what I do when I’m writing a story. There was a time in my life (well into adulthood, I might add) when I believed all of the people around me were ceaselessly making up stories in their head, the way I do. I thought daydreaming and creating stories were synonymous until I made one of those off-hand comments about it to someone and they gave me the look, you know that look people give you when they have no idea what you’re talking about and they are suddenly wondering if you’re a little bit crazy. It was just like the time, at my book club meeting, when I mentioned that really sweet foods tickle my tongue. I met with blank stares followed by raucous laughter and I was left wondering, am I the only one?

I have since done some light investigating about how people daydream and although I don’t believe I am the only one, I have yet to find somebody else who entertained themselves on those miserable childhood afternoons spent being dragged around department stores by making up stories about all of the mannequins, or someone who has a long cast of characters living imaginary lives in their daydream world. I know there are others out there like me but from what I can tell, most people daydream about real life or create fantasy lives about themselves. So, thank you Mom, for turning me into an indentured servant every Saturday morning and forcing me to clean the downstairs bathroom because I believe that’s where the stories began. I transformed my childhood angst into creativity and I guess it just never stopped.

Jackie Andrade said:

The exciting thing is that people actually got better while doing two things at once. Doodling is not as bad a thing as we might think.

And neither is daydreaming.

Feel free to let me know if you also daydream in stories, practice The Shower Principle in your life or your tongue gets tickled when you eat really sweet things (I’m a bit worried about that one, I’m really beginning to think I am the only one that happens to) because I would be interested to know. Maybe I should do my own study.

[The boy listening to Paul Simon (his request) and taking self-portraits.]


My friend Emily mentioned that I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s nice to know that at least one person missed me. Never fear my faithful readers, I haven’t given up on blogging I have just been preoccupied with my writing. I’ve been having some amazing success with my manuscript the last couple of weeks and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The last goal I set for myself was to be done with my second draft by April 1st and if you will kindly look at the calendar, you will notice that was yesterday. But, that goal was to mark the anniversary of the beginning of my 5-year-manuscript-project which, I discovered while perusing old emails this past week, I actually began writing in February 2007. The 5-year ship has sailed. The new plan is to be done by May 31st and in the meantime I’ll try to blog more regularly, for those of you who missed me. If I don’t, just know it’s because incredible things are happening on this very computer I’m typing on and you’re one day closer to actually being able to read my story.