Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sparks Fly

That last post was created by my creative spark. I get it occasionally; the short (10 minutes to a few hours) burst of extreme focus and higher thinking. It's quite powerful; I've written entire thesis papers in a matter of hours when it gets turned on. My rhetoric develops a maturity that I can't normally conjure up, my prose gets tighter, and I frequently get my very best writing from this spark. Sometimes it's a nonfiction essay, like last post. On a few occasions, I've even written short fiction - and that's the only time I can write decent fiction.

I occasionally get it with other things besides writing. A few times, I have had an insight with a problem in a program I was creating, which led to a fury of work that solved the problem, often in elegant fashion. Similar things occasionally happen with problems or problems with designing a rocket.

(I use the term "spark" here in allusion to Girl Genius, a webcomic I'm very fond of, where The Spark is a state of hyperfocus that certain characters make use of. I'm not as skilled as they, but I recognize the description of the feeling.)

It's almost impossible to control. Thinking about a problem or essay for a length of time can sometimes trigger it; when I need it to make a thesis paper perfect, it may take a week or longer before I get to it. Sometimes it appears when I think on a problem for an hour or so with nothing else to entertain me; it was such boredom that produced my rant on feminism. Sometimes, it's triggered by a single idea: a thought in Marine Science last year about self-replicating nanobots quickly warped into a humorous monologue.

About llamas.

I've made it a point to analyze it when it does appear, which, fortunately, is more often than it used to. Being able to harness it, to call it at will, would be an extraordinarily powerful ability. I could write at my best any time I wanted to. That means thinking as fast as I can type (20-30wpm*) with almost no need to revise**. At my best, I come within spitting distance of 1000 words per hour.

I know that it comes most often at night. I am a loner by nature, and though I have an impressive ability to focus with distractions around, late night when everyone else is sleeping is still my best hour. Even though I am frequently extremely tired, the hyperfocus causes me to ignore sleepiness and hunger as well as less base things like other things that normally crowd my mind. The late-night nature is both a blessing and a curse; while it's saved a number of assignments (and at least one semester paper) at the eleventh hour, it also effectively prevents sleep for as long as it lasts, and more than once I've hit save with the first hints of dawn beginning to grace the eastern sky.

Besides the witching hours, the other contributing factor seems to be stress. As I've noted, on a number of occasions it's appeared when I have an essay due the next day (a habit I'm attempting to get out of for college). Even when it blesses me with a non-academic gift - like the aforementioned monologue, and last night's essay - it's a product of having too much on my mind. Which is not good when, say, I really ought to be working on differential equations instead.

So I'm trying to figure out how to trigger it in ways other than staying up late and procrastinating on my homework. Thinking a lot in the absence of other distractions (like books and the internet) may help, and it's why walking at night is something I'll be doing more. Certain music has an effect; it can't be catchy, but it has to be powerful. Ozzy's raw power distracts; Dio's melodic songs are better for trying to focus. Symphonic death metal - particularly with Norwegian lyrics that I don't listen to because they're not in English - and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's masterful guitar work seems to be best.

One thing that definitely helps is simply being good. I got this spark only a handful of times before 11th grade, when I had Ms. Park. We had our differences at times, but I respect her perhaps more than any other teacher I've had, because she made me develop my style. She gave assignments that didn't require trying to shoehorn myself into a literary style; they required creating arguments and backing them up with evidence. She allowed me my idiosyncrasies within the bounds of reason and focused on shoring up the weak parts of my writing. Very quickly, I was writing much further above my age than I usually had. Now that I can write at a level equal to my ability to think, it is much easier to produce when I do get the spark.

I don't know how it works for other people. Perhaps everyone gets hyperfocussed on occasion, and I'm simply overanalyzing a normal phenomenon. Perhaps I'm just lucky. My suspicion is that it is often correlated with high intelligence plus what are sometimes termed mild autism-spectrum disorders. Anecdotal evidence from a few other people seems to support this idea. I certainly fit the psychological and behavioral patterns for high-functioning Asberger's. Regardsless of the source, though, it is my opinion that true genius requires not only a high degree of skill, but also an ability to summon that hyperfocus almost at will. I can only wish I had that ability.

* I was taught to type in the standard style, but I never took to it. I'm possessed of a pair of abnormally large hands, which make it difficult to fit ten fingers in position on a standard keyboard. I also didn't have the patience to go through the absolutely demeaning exercises required to learn such a method. So, instead, I simply typed with what felt naturally - hunt-and-peck with just my index fingers - whenever my teacher wasn't looking. Since then, I've spent so much time typing that I can type 20 to 30 words per minute - and as high as 45 wpm on typing tests - with just two fingers. My only problem is a tendency to transpose certain two-letter patterns, particularly ng to gn.

** In tenth grade, I turned in a thesis paper that I didn't edit after the first draft. It was half act of juvenile defiance, half refusal to spend time editing something that was already just as perfect as I felt it should be.

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