The brain loves to answer questions and figure out puzzles. I find this approach especially helpful for revision work: ask questions of your character or of yourself.
But you have to be careful to not overwhelm your brain with really big questions, triggering the amygdala–the flight or fight fear response which when activated shuts off access to the cortex where the thinking happens. In fact, according to Dr. Robert Maurer (One Small Step Can Change Your Life, Workman Publishing, New York) writes: “….the mere act of posing the same question on a regular basis and waiting patiently for an answer mobilizes the cortex.”
Michael Ondatje, author of The English Patient, uses small questions….”I don’t have any grand themes in my head,” he says…. he takes a few incidents–“like [a] plane crash or the idea of a patient or a nurse at night talking”–and asks himself a few very small questions such as “Who is the man in the plane? Why is he there? Why does he crash? What year is this? Of the answers he says, “Those little fragments, fragments of mosaics, they add up and you start finding out the past of these characters and trying to invent a past for these characters.” (Maurer, 46-7)
Another way to trick your brain into working FOR you and not AGAINST you is to get your brain into the transient hypofrontality mode. This state of mind is achieved when doing mundane or repetitive tasks, when your brain is in a state where it can percolate your ideas and make new connections. As a creative non fiction writer I find this especially helpful when I’m working on reflection–what did I think about that event then, and what do I think about it now… This transient hypofrontality is a relaxed congitive state that can be achieved by doing tasks that set your mind at rest: a long walk, doing a repetitive task like chopping vegetables or washing dishes. Or take a bath, meditate, do yoga… and let things come together in interesting ways.
The good new is, the frontal lobes of highly creative people are thinner than average allowing us creative types to achieve this hypofrontality state more easily according to Dr. Rex Jung, MD / PhD. Learn more about Dr. Jung by listening to the show, “Creativity and the Brain, Making the Connection” over on KUNM.