surfing the brain waves: manage your mind and unleash your creative beast



Natasha Wescoat, of the awesome art blog Art Candy (that’s her work called Vanilla Skies on the left) remarks on the anxiety that prevents us from doing creative work. This is a fear, she says, “which you can avoid by simply becoming immersed in the act itself.”

Easier said than done, except Natasha’s point is that it isn’t: we make the creative process too complicated by overthinking it and freezing up.

“Just like meditation, you must go into a zone or state of unconscious drawing/painting. Since a child, this has been my tool for drawing. I would start with a picture in my mind, and then let it appear on the paper….I would go into a state of relaxation and unconsciousness, not wondering if I can draw the object or thing, but only knowing that it would become a story on paper. Good or not. Because of that ability to zone, I became better and better at drawing.”

Natasha refers to this process as “the ability to zone” and “automatic creating”.

In her book THINKING WRITE: THE SECRET TO FREEING YOUR CREATIVE MIND Kelly L Stone calls it “accessing your subconscious.”

The subconscious, she says, is your “most valuable tool…your own personal gold mind of ideas, inspiration and creativity.” It records everything and remembers everything. It can also be “programmed to help you reach your writing goals”.

To get to it, you have to slip past “the anti-writer” which lives within the preconscious, the transitional area between the conscious and subconscious. “The negative statements that it makes can actually program your subconscious mind, which then works to bring the negative statements into reality.”

Just like sticks and stones, the things you say to yourself can hurt you…or at least your writing. All the little ways you sabotage yourself, all the myths about publishing — “you can’t get published unless you know somebody” — you buy into in order to give up hope and quit before you start: for all that, you can blame the anti-writer.

Stone describes the four types of brain waves.

Beta waves. When you are awake and aware and ready for action. “Beta waves generate left-brain activity and do not produce spontaneous creativity.” Ahem. Let me repeat that: do not produce spontaneous creativity. We spend most of our waking time in a mental state that does not allow the kind of free-flowing ‘zoning’ that Natasha is talking about. This is the state we require for job interviews and presentations and grocery shopping: the ins and outs of daily living.

Alpha waves. When you’re alert but relaxed. These waves “are associated with creativity and right-brain activity.”

Theta waves. Typically when you’re in deep sleep: the body is fully relaxed but the brain is engaged with dreaming. Or maybe you’re meditating. Or maybe you’re doing something that requires intense concentration on one task for a long time. “[Theta waves] could account for the reason when many people have bursts of insight when driving on the interstate.”

Delta waves. You’re asleep. You’re not dreaming. Nothing happening.

Stone points out that “people who learn to fire walk often exhibit alpha brain waves while walking across the hot coals. Experienced meditators have learned to use relaxation to perform extraordinary physical feats…Elite athletes have been documented to have a burst of alpha wave activity in the seconds before they [demonstrate] high amounts of skill, such as throwing a basketball through a hoop or taking a difficult putt.”

When you’re stressed, your brain is focused outward on the environment. “There can be no flow or exchange of ideas between your conscious and subconscious minds.” Only when your brain waves slow down can “your subconscious mind easily communicate with your conscious mind” which is why so many people will advise you to “sleep on it” when searching for the answer to a question or problem.

Someone like Natasha has learned to relax her body to generate alpha and even theta brain waves which allow her “to zone” and make art.

“I’ve been asked by dozens of people how it was that I could draw hair that flowed and people that had such movement and aliveness, and all I could simply say was that I drew them as I felt them move.”

Much of Stone’s book is devoted to techniques of “progressive relaxation”: how, like Natasha, you can learn to manage your brain waves and slow yourself down, enabling creative work.

My own way of doing this is simple enough: I lie on my bed. I turn my mind loose and drift.

I think of this as conversing with the undermind.

If you think you lack talent, if you think you’re not creative…


Be like Natasha.

Just be.

And then just do it.

Natasha’s Art Candy: Practicing Automatic Creation

Website of Kelly L Stone

Writer’s Digest Blog: Promptly: Kelly L Stone Riffs On Unlocking Creativity


Dec 5, 2009

5 comments · Add Yours

I’ve experimented in the past with using binaural beats to induce brainwaves, by creating an audio pattern with a software tool and putting it on my iPod. It was definitely helpful for meditation…I think I might experiment with it again for writing-related deviousness. Thanks for the idea spark!


another wonderful post, Justine! it’s nice to know we’re all out there battling our over-thinking brains in order to get the words down on paper. I think “Chill” is one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve heard in a long time.


Silence is golden, indeed. Once I can block out all the noise of the world… then my mind starts lobbing ideas around like confetti tossed out a window. I think one problem for me is knowing when to sit back up & take notes.


I was enjoying this post when I noticed that the brain wave functions attributed by Stone are inaccurate. Your mistake or hers, I don’t know because I have not read her book but according to many reliable sources, including, which I have cited below, delta waves are associated with deep sleep not alertness, and beta waves are active during stress and normal waking consciousness.

Brain Wave Frequencies:

DELTA (0.1 to 3.5 Hz)

The lowest frequencies are delta. These are less than 4 Hz and occur in deep sleep and in some abnormal processes. It is the dominant rhythm in infants up to one year of age and it is present in stages 3 and 4 of sleep. It tends to be the highest in amplitude and the slowest waves. We increase Delta waves in order to decrease our awareness of the physical world. We also access information in our unconscious mind through Delta. Peak performers decrease Delta waves when high focus and peak performance are required. However, most individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, naturally increase rather than decrease Delta activity when trying to focus. The inappropriate Delta response often severely restricts the ability to focus and maintain attention. It is as if the brain is locked into a perpetual drowsy state.Another way to look at Delta is to imagine you are driving in a car and you shift into 1st gear….you’re not going to get anywhere very fast. So Delta would represent 1st gear.
DELTA (0.1-3 Hz): Distribution: generally broad or diffuse; may be bilateral, widespread
Subjective feeling states: deep, dreamless sleep, non-REM sleep, trance, unconscious
Associated tasks & behaviors: lethargic, not moving, not attentive
Physiological correlates: not moving, low-level of arousal
Effects of training: can induce drowsiness, trance, deeply relaxed states
THETA (4-8 Hz)

The next brainwave is theta. Theta activity has a frequency of 3.5 to 7.5 Hz and is classed as “slow” activity. It is seen in connection with creativity, intuition, daydreaming, and fantasizing and is a repository for memories, emotions, sensations. Theta waves are strong during internal focus, meditation, prayer, and spiritual awareness. It reflects the state between wakefulness and sleep and relates to the subconscious mind. It is abnormal in awake adults but is perfectly normal in children up to 13 years old. It is also normal during sleep. Theta is believed to reflect activity from the limbic system and hippocampal regions. Theta is observed in anxiety, behavioral activation and behavioral inhibition. When the theta rhythm appears to function normally it mediates and/or promotes adaptive, complex behaviors such as learning and memory. Under unusual emotional circumstances, such as stress or disease states, there may be an imbalance of three major transmitter systems, which results in aberrant behavior. Back to our car example, Theta would be considered 2nd gear. Not as slow as 1st gear (Delta) but still not very fast.
THETA (3.5-7.5 Hz): Distribution: usually regional, may involve many lobes, can be lateralized or diffuse;
Subjective feeling states: intuitive, creative, recall, fantasy, imagery, creative, dreamlike, switching thoughts, drowsy; “oneness”, “knowing”
Associated tasks & behaviors: creative, intuitive; but may also be distracted, unfocused
Physiological correlates: healing, integration of mind/body
Effects of Training: if enhanced, can induce drifting, trance-like state. If suppressed, can improve concentration, ability to focus attention
ALPHA (8-12 Hz)

Alpha waves are those between 8 and 12(Hz). Alpha waves will peak around 10Hz. Good healthy alpha production promotes mental resourcefulness, aids in the ability to mentally coordinate, enhances overall sense of relaxation and fatigue. In this state you can move quickly and efficiently to accomplish whatever task is at hand. When Alpha predominates most people feel at ease and calm. Alpha appears to bridge the conscious to the subconscious. It is the major rhythm seen in normal relaxed adults – it is present during most of life especially beyond the thirteenth year when it dominates the resting tracing. Alpha rhythms are reported to be derived from the white matter of the brain. The white matter can be considered the part of the brain that connects all parts with each other. Alpha is a common state for the brain and occurs whenever a person is alert (it is a marker for alertness and sleep), but not actively processing information. They are strongest over the occipital (back of the head) cortex and also over frontal cortex. Alpha has been linked to extroversion (introverts show less), creativity (creative subjects show alpha when listening and coming to a solution for creative problems), and mental work. When your alpha is within normal ranges we tend to also experience good moods, see the world truthfully, and have a sense of calmness. Alpha is one of the brain’s most important frequency to learn and use information taught in the classroom and on the job. You can increase alpha by closing your eyes or deep breathing or decrease alpha by thinking or calculating. Alpha-Theta training can create an increase in sensation, abstract thinking and self-control. In our car scenario, Alpha would represent neutral or idle. Alpha allows us to shift easily from one task to another.
ALPHA(8-12 Hz): Distribution: regional, usually involves entire lobe; strong occipital w/eyes closed
Subjective feeling states: relaxed, not agitated, but not drowsy; tranquil, conscious
Associated tasks & behaviors: meditation, no action
Physiological correlates: relaxed, healing
Effects of Training: can produce relaxation
Sub band low alpha: 8-10: inner-awareness of self, mind/body integration, balance
Sub band high alpha: 10-12: centering, healing, mind/body connection
BETA (above 12 Hz)

Beta activity is ‘fast’ activity. It has a frequency of 14 and greater Hz. It reflects desynchronized active brain tissue. It is usually seen on both sides in symmetrical distribution and is most evident frontally. It may be absent or reduced in areas of cortical damage.
It is generally regarded as a normal rhythm and is the dominant rhythm in those who are alert or anxious or who have their eyes open.
It is the state that most of brain is in when we have our eyes open and are listening and thinking during analytical problem solving, judgment, decision making, processing information about the world around us.
Beta would represent overdrive or hyperdrive in our car scenario.
The beta band has a relatively large range, and has been divided into low, midrange and high.


Sorry to tell you, but you have the Delta and Beta Waves confused> Read up on brain waves again in order to make this article credible.


Add your comment