You know the feeling: After struggling with a problem for a while, you simply take your mind off it and move on to something else — and suddenly, just the right idea or phrase pops into your head seemingly out of nowhere.
And you’ve also probably experienced just the opposite. You strain and strain to find an answer to something and exhaust your mind in the process. Instead of a fabulous solution, the only result is frustration.
Trying too hard can short-circuit creativity and leave us feeling burned out. Letting go, on the other hand, can allow our imagination and inner resources to work quietly “underground” to give us the answer we need, whether our problem is smoothing a tricky paragraph or sharpening our dialogue.
Vladimir Nabokov spoke about this “underground” process in the epilogue to his breakthrough novel, Lolita. As he tells it, he had written a short story on the same theme, but wasn’t happy with it and put it aside. Almost a decade later, he came back to it and found that the original idea “…had grown in secret the claws and wings of a novel.”
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a well-known specialist on harnessing the subconscious mind, believes that there’s a simple explanation for why surrendering a problem is far more effective than struggling with it. When we try to solve a problem consciously with effort, we often become anxious and fearful about the results we’ll come up with, which stops the creative process cold.
It’s much easier to simply pose a problem to your subconscious and then let your inner self take over and resolve it. So if you’re hitting a rough spot in your novel or short story, don’t sweat it. Simply frame the problem to yourself as clearly as you can. Then, take it easy: forget about it for a few hours or overnight, then come back to it gently and see if your mind has “secretly” come up with an elegant underground solution.