It helps to “prime the pump” of your subconscious the night before. Before I go to sleep, I read through what I’ve written that day. If it’s a photograph or drawing, I look at it for awhile, thinking about it. If it’s music, I listen through the part I’m working on.
If I’m wrestling with a specific issue or problem like “How am I going to get them out of THAT situation?”, I think about that a while before going to sleep.
When I wake up, I pay attention to what my subconscious offers. That’s often in the first few thoughts or images I have while waking up. Keeping a notepad, journal or other recording device handy at your bedside is a useful (even necessary!) tool for this.
I have a PDA; push one button, start jotting down ideas. Or push a different button and start dictating. You can do the same things with a smartphone or tablet.
To use a netbook/ultrabook/laptop/desktop computer instead, but you must be able to get to it quickly. And it MUST come up quickly and ready for you to start typing.
Try leaving a document already open, ready for typing, and put your computer into suspend or hibernation mode. Many modern computers can come out of suspend or hibernation in only a few seconds.
Our subconscious minds have their own feelings. Their feelings are easily hurt, too. So always accept whatever it offers. There’s no room for the Editor Mind here! Even if you don’t necessarily use its gift in your current project, note it down. This encourages your subconscious to keep coming up with things.
To further power your imagination, train yourself to wake up and write down your dreams. Particularly useful for us creative arts people, but even scientists benefit from dreams. The scientist trying to figure out the structure of DNA dreamed its double-helix structure before he went to work and actually discovered it!
Once you’ve noted things down, think about it while you do whatever else you do as part of your pre-writing wake up process. Keep reminding yourself that you’re going to write (even if there are other things that get in the way first).
Practicing a bit of centering prayer/meditation before writing can also help, even if you’re not of a particular spiritual bent. This can also strengthen communication with your subconscious.
Finally, the proper dose of coffee or tea may help your focus. Caffeine may kick your brain’s neural activity level from the distractable state into one where you can focus. Tea has some caffeine, along with other stronger but slower-acting stimulants in it, that are useful to me.
I’ve seen studies showing that creative people are at their most creative when they’re in a hypomanic state (just below the manic state in which nothing gets accomplished). In college, I used to consume 3-4 strong pots of tea a day (heavily laced with honey), and was extremely creative. To an extent, I’m still harvesting the benefits of that creative time 30+ years ago!
[Please keep in mind the usual such disclaimers: I’m not a doctor, so don’t take any of this as medical advice!]
Finally, when you sit down to write, open your inner ears and listen, your inner eyes and look, your innermost heart and feel!
The next productivity challenge for me personally: Overcoming the “If I can’t spend the rest of the day and night and forever and ever amen writing – that’s way too short to bother getting started!” thought. Then nothing ever gets done.
[Thanks to porfiriopostle AT gmail.com for the comment that inspired this!]