Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex photo: A.K.Andrew

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex
photo: A.K.Andrew

Creativity and computers have been trying to blend together for some time now. Photoshop, painting apps, word processing freeing up writing time by throwing out the tipex and carbon paper. And yet how many of you feel that the time spent in front of your computer actually drains your creativity?

I recently read an article in the Pacific Standard that did a field test about creativity and nature. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Have you been staring cow-eyed at a computer all morning? Fiddling with your iPhone in line at Starbucks? Checking Twitter and ESPN every four minutes on your tablet?

Good. Here’s a little quiz. What one word ties these three ideas together: water + tobacco + stove? How about widow + bite + monkey? Or, envy + golf + beans?

Psychologists call such wordplay the “remote associates test,” or RAT, and use it to study creativity and intuition. The idea is that it requires a nimble, open mind to find the connection between seemingly unrelated ideas—in this case pipe, spider, and green.”

The study goes on to compare responses after people have been hiking in nature. Of course the results improve. But is this really to do with nature itself, or simply having relaxation time away from the computer? For some people a hike in the woods would be torture, and they might achieve the same rejuvenating effect with a walk around an art gallery, or even a shopping mall.

Do Computers Free Your Time for Creativity?

On one level, our computers free up time for creativity by making certain practical tasks easier e.g. editing and printing. Computers also give us the means to express ourselves in ways that were previously impossible . However, do you ever question whether the practical benefits outweigh the time we lose in the myriad of things we now do with our technology? Think Facebook. Think looking up a factoid and not returning to your original project until an hour and a half later as one “interesting article” distracted you and one website led to another.

Without doubt we can network with others more easily. We might link up with creatively like minded individuals, or pursue online learning opportunities. But in terms of encouraging or tapping into our creativity, is our time better served in other pursuits?

 How well do you manage your computer time with your creative life? Does it complement or detract from your creativity? If the latter, what things would you like to change?

 Do  share your comments below and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please post it on your favorite social media.

 Many Thanks!


 Twitter: @artyyah


Facebook page :

Never miss another post. Subscribe to Writer’s Notebook. (Top of page on right)


Computer screen garden (2)

Computer screen garden (2) (Photo credit: 4nitsirk)




Share on Facebook11Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Buffer this pagePin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on LinkedIn0Share on StumbleUpon2Email this to someone


  1. I am heading back to the note-book and pen. It is how I started writing; and I always wrote original ideas, first draft in A4 pads. Even after I got my first computer in 94 I continued to use paper. Great scribbles and nearly unreadable notes, drawings and schemes that didn’t always make sense weeks later. Months or years later, when struggling with a character or what I call the ground water of the story, these unedited ramblings and doodles would prove to be a real resource and memory jogger.
    Over these last few years , probably because of having to produce work for the Uni creative writing course, I had taken to typing straight to word processor from the first idea. Those ideas are often lost. Edited as I head down the page. A lost bank of possible solutions. The old notes are also an excellent distraction and reminder of how far I have come [or not].
    Just the other week I was talking about missing the typewriter. The physical pleasure of writing. Hitting keys and yellow paper. Perhaps I am closer to Guggenheim than Jobs.
    One other thing. My posture, and general well-being was a lot better when I wrote everything in notebooks. Maybe I was in control of the machine. OK – back to my pad – paper pad.

    • There is no question that something is lost in the writing process when you switch from pen/pencil to the keyboard. Somewhat akin to the the memorability of doing something to learn how, rather than someone telling you how it’s done. Physical connection between the hand and the brain. On a conscious level I think it’s easier to get into ‘the zone’ , which is really tapping into our subconscious.
      But 75,000 -100,000 words is an awful lot to write by hand. So for me there has to be a compromise between the two forms. The important thing is to keep writing whatever way you prefer.
      Really interesting points Tom and good to see you here. Thanks so much for comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  2. I would definitely pick hiking over other choices for creativity. Going to a mall would absolutely zap my creativity – actually, it would depress me. Reading your blog might help my creativity. Reading the news would probably induce me to go for a walk, anywhere other than in front of my computer.

    Sometimes I get creative while waiting to pick up my daughter from school. It’s too often a ten minute wait. Ten minutes to jot down something quick or to wander in my thoughts. I do sometimes read blog posts on my phone in those ten minutes.
    Leora recently posted..Local SEO in 2013My Profile

    • I’m not a shopper either. In fact malls make me claustrophobic. I definitely need time away from the computer too. Walking by or even just looking at the sea is a good one for me.
      I like your use of odd times that get inadvertently thrown at us during the day as creative time. We have to take it where we can- and get creative in how we do!. Thanks so much for your comment Leora.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  3. I have found that in most cases sitting in front of the computer has been helpful. Writing has definitely been improved. I can write faster and manipulate what I write much better using programs than I ever did with paper. I can type faster than I write with a pen so my thoughts do not get lost. Once I have all my thoughts types out and I can move them around in ways that using a pen and paper would never allow.

    Stepping away from the computer is also a good thing. Getting out and going for a walk is always inspiring. Going to a mall can also be inspiring. It depends on your mindset. For instance: If I am looking for a good blog post, a mall is a good place to find one. Go to dinner and blog about your meal.

    BTW – I have not seen one of those monitors in forever. Nice use for it! 🙂
    Geek Girl recently posted..American Idol AppMy Profile

    • I think it’s true that you have to find a balance between what works for you. There’s relaxation & then theres productivity that most people have to consider. I can’t deny the appeal of shopping therapy , tho’ it’s never been big for me, but certainly people watching is a must as a writer at least.
      Can’t believe how old those computers look now. Photo certainly caught my eye. Thanks for the comment Cheryl.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  4. What a fascinating topic, A.K. Thx for posting.

    I’d not previously heard of the RAT theory. Very cool.

    And no, I don’t think computers free up our time for creativity. I think computers have made more work for us, as it takes so much time and effort to participate on the various platforms on which you and I, as authors, are encouraged to have a presence. Even though I enjoy those interactions, they often drain my energy and take up so much time I don’t have time or energy to make phone calls to friends and family who may NOT be online.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..Chocolatouring: enjoying the chocolate tours at Hotel Chocolat BoucanMy Profile

    • I think we’re pretty much on the same page here Doreen. Reminds me of the old adage about men – can’t live with’em, can’t live without ’em. Delegating our time carefully I think is the best we can do, and enjoy the positives that computers give us. Thanks so much for the comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  5. Personally I’m very positive to computers A.K. If it wasn’t for computers and Linkedin we would not be online

    Have you come across people that always have their i-phone next to them, constantly checking messages, looking up information – well you know the type. Then it has gone too far and they are almost losing their identity. It’s really sad that they are not able to have an interesting conversation without involving their i-phone. And it’s not just teenagers but sometimes their parents too. And they should know better since they are used to having discussions without involving an electronic devise…:-)
    Catarina recently posted..Should women be as ambitious as men?My Profile

    • You’re absolutely right Catarina. Computers are indeed fantastic tools and a great medium for communication. It’s all the other stuff , such as you mentioned, that tends to be the drain. Cellphones are even worse and teenagers particularly are vulnerable to the compulsive propensity they have for some people.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  6. An excellent post. Computers can help us do more, learn more, and use tools to be more creative things, but they are part of the process, they don’t ignite the spark that IS creativity. I thing that a hike in the woods (or a walk along a beach, or stroll through a garden, or participation in a sport) are all more effective at getting the creative juices flowing.
    Grace recently posted..An Unhealthy NationMy Profile

  7. Hi A.K. It’s a mixed bag with me. I love the fact that I can create art using my iPad and desk top. In fact, I just order a new draw tool for my computer to give me more flexibility to do so. What I do find challenging is the time it take to do other things in front of my tech tools. These things also takes away from conversation when I’m out and about. I have made a decision to shut these things off and take some time just to be out with my camera and to enjoy nature at its best just so I came let my mind rest and find some new things to write and draw about. Just my thoughts. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Guest Post by Jenn Young/The Plush Side of Storage Facilities: Storing WineMy Profile

  8. I spend too much time on the computer attending to my self imposed author platform “duties”, but at the end of them I feel at least as if I have accomplished something. Maybe that’s it for me—the feeling of accomplishment mixed with the feeling that I wish I could impose an even better duty on myself—to get to work on the fiction that rattles around in my head at 4 o’clock in the morning but can never seem to make it to the keyboard.
    Larry Crane recently posted..List of Play Selections Announced – Not My YearMy Profile

    • Ah Larry I see we have similar dilemma’s. ‘Self-imposed’ immediately rang a bell with me. It’s all part of the game we have to play isn’t it, and indeed truly necessary. Getting the right balance is the problem, and I think it’s my fiction that suffers when I don’t have that balance right. The path to the keyboard…there must be an easier way. But then that’s another post. Good to see you here and thanks so much for your post.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  9. As in many things I believe the key is – moderation. Getting outside in nature has positive effects for ANYONE for so many reasons. Being tied to technology, as in your example of that person who is at a coffee shop and either with their iPad or SmartPhone, texting or otherwise connecting – how does THAT lend to the coffee AAAHHH moment? I don’t think it does.

    All things in moderation. And what seems to be the issue with technology is we are rarely ever disconnected. The mere fact that IT can cause us to disconnect from nature, is a conundrum.
    Patricia Weber recently posted..What’s the chance you will stick to your goals, resolutions or intentions!My Profile

    • Moderation is something that many of us rail against, especially type A personalities which you have to have if you have a growing business. I think you hit the nail on the head in raising the issue of being disconnected. We are so used to it, then the idea of not being for many is stressful. IT has wonderful aspects to it, but there are also other things in life that get pushed to one side in the need to always be ‘on’. Thanks so much for your comment Pat.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  10. I find (for me) that the open availability of the world on the computer can be an open invitation to mess around instead of be productive. There is a bit of discipline needed that can take some time to build as a habit. In the process I have taken to spending at least one night not only away from the computer but also outside the house, like at a coffee shop or somewhere similar. In times like that I usually use an old school pen and notebook to work on story elements.

    I find a couple advantages in this approach. First the distractions are less. Sure you have the world happening around you but you can shut it out with an mp3 player and just get lost in some music and the paper in front of you. And secondly, you completely change your environment. Sometimes sitting in the same place for too long away from other people can be draining. You can lose sight of the world around you.
    Jon Jefferson recently posted..Session 72: How We Love BeerMy Profile

    • Excellent points you raise Jon. Lack of productivity is a problem in many ways , creativity being just one of them. As with most things in life it’s good to have a variety. I like the use of the pen and a notebook too. It really is a different experience. As Pat said everything in moderation. Thank you for your comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  11. Great post A.K. The one thing that helps me is to remember to embrace your inner child. They are curious, and be creative in their own little world.

  12. A.K. — I think I’ve become a slave to the computer. If I’m not out I’m at the computer. Certainly a computer helps you to get your creative thoughts down more quickly than writing in pencil on a yellow-lined paper. Computers are both a blessing and a curse!
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Do Community Managers and Social Media Managers Have Different Roles?My Profile

  13. I have found it to be very draining on my energy. I sit way too long writing posts, sending them out via social media and marketing. Then there is reading posts and commenting. All of this (well mostly) i enjoy, but the fact is I am sitting on my bum!
    You do need to take that walk, go somewhere different, get back to nature.
    Yes, I should be listening to myself right now and take note 🙂
    Becc recently posted..They call it the fat mentalityMy Profile

    • I agree Becc – it’s all necessary, & for the most part enjoyable, but you do have to move around in some way. Hard sometimes to let go. I find work in front of the computer rarely finished – there is always another blog to write or part of a novel to edit. -all things I love to do. But it takes self discipline to say no and get out in the world . Of course others get their inspiration from the computer – so whatever works for you, is best. Thank you for your comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  14. I have to put lots of effort into making myself write first and attend to platform-building duties second. It works best when I can sit down at my desk in the morning (with all the clutter cleared away the night before) and only open Word and leave all social media, etc. closed until I get my word count in for the morning. It’s been a long, uphill battle that I am slowly winning. I do think computers can drain our creativity, but only when we spend too much time on them. I have to make myself put down my devices. I recently started reading books on an iPad, but am considering going back to reading on my old Kindle since I’m not tempted to open this or that App to check something every five minutes (or maybe I just need to find more interesting books to read…)

    However, I much prefer to type at the keyboard. Pen and paper have never been my thing. It started when I was young as a left-handed child forced to try to write with my right hand by my kindergarten teacher. I won that battle! But as a lefty, I don’t like how my hand drags over the page and gets smudges on it. I also don’t like my hideous cursive, and my printing isn’t much better 😉 Plus, I can type much faster then I can write, and therefore capture more thoughts more efficiently. That is, if I don’t self-edit too much. Alas, it’s a vicious circle where balance must always be sought.
    Jeri recently posted..Author Interview: S P MountMy Profile

    • I admire your discipline Jeri – yet again another good example you’re setting. It’s interesting you should mention reading on your iPad, as I’ve only recently bought a kindle and deliberately bought it without any online connectivity for that very reason. I’m not sure what the psychological pull is around always needing to check this and that online, but many people seem to have it.
      While there is something positive for me about a pen & paper, it’s totally impractical for getting a decent word count in a day. I’m in awe at authors who wrote before word processing and before research was possible on line. Now that’s when we’re talking real dedication.
      Really interesting what you said about being a lefty. Hadn’t thought about the hand going over what you’ve written and being smudgy. And the self edit thing is def. an issue, though I’m much better about that now . Ah the constant quest for moderation – it really goes against the grain. Thanks so much for your comment:-)
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?My Profile

  15. Aren’t there two different (if not mutually exclusive) processes to be addressed here? First, the origin and generation of ideas and, second, the able expression of those ideas? While like most people I find a keyboard and screen best for writing, my ideas and, subsequently, structures for those ideas, are always best done with paper and pen.
    As to the most fruitful contexts for those ideas, I’ve noticed mine invariably come when I’m on my bike (my usual mode of transport) or when running (not nearly so frequently but usually at least in part through parkland). Whether it’s the motion or scenery or whatever that generates those ideas, I can’t say. It may well be just the concentration on a mundane task that frees the creative part of the brain – in which case hanging out the washing or standing in a shop queue might work just as well, who knows…

    • There are two different processes at work here, but I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said that it’s a question of the mind being free to concentrate on a task. Going for walk is always good as the exercise benefit is always there, but I think the simplification for the mind def. plays a role in this process. Really enjoyed your comment. Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Does Every Picture Tell a Story?My Profile


  1. […] their lists, I often say, yes, artists think that way as well. For example, A. K. Andrews asks, Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity? One could certainly make this argument for writers or visual artists. In this post, I’ll […]