Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Brainstorming! Impromptu Rhapsody on the Word "Turn"

Total Read Time: 4 Minutes
I'm reading a book called Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico, Ph.D. This very cool book explores simple techniques to "release creative inhibition" and let your mind go. From what I read, it focuses on the well-known technique of brain-storming or brain-mapping, where you put down a word at the center of a blank page and start writing down words and ideas you associate with that word WITHOUT THINKING DEEPLY ABOUT THE CONNECTION.

This last bit is crucial as once you start to think about the relevant connections, you are using your left brain and interfering with your right brain activity of coming up with novel ideas and connections. I've known about the technique for a long time, but for some inexplicable reason, I have never put it to serious use in my creative endeavors. I have been, however, aware of those precious moments when my right brain took charge of the writing and began making connections I had never seen there before.

So for the first time, I'm giving this technique a shot, and here I am, actually using it for real and marveling at its effectiveness.

If you're like me and have heard of this technique and HAVE NOT ACTUALLY DONE IT YET, give it a try. Here is an exercise straight from the book:

1. Write and circle the word "TURN" in the center of the page.

2. Let your mind make connections and put down anything that comes to mind when you write the word "turn." Avoid judging or editing yourself. Simply let go and write. Let the words or phrases that come to you radiate outward from the center word - using lines and arrows if you wish - drawing a circle around each word or phrase that comes to you. Don't think too long or analyze.

3. At first, your left brain will try to interfere, as it is uncomfortable with the seeming silliness or randomness of this exercise. Reassure yourself that this randomness is an important first stage of the creative process.

4. Allow brainstorming to continue naturally. If you reach a point where no further words or phrases come to mind, keep the flow coming by doodling a bit - drawing arrows on your existing cluster, etc.

5. You will know when to stop when you feel an urge to write. It may happen suddenly, like an "Aha!" or it may surface gradually, as though you were slowly unveiling a sculpture.

6. Now write, either ignoring the brainstormed words altogether or scanning them for specifics. Through the process of brainstorming, your right brain has perceived a pattern of meaning - so trust in the natural writing flow which that pattern will dictate. Take about five minutes. Don't feel that you must use everything. Ignore what doesn't fit.

7. Come full circle and complete your vignette by referring to what started your thought process when you first began to write. You might repeat a word or phrase or refer to a dominant thought or emotion; this will give your vignette a sense of wholeness.

8. Read aloud what you have written. Make changes until you have a strong sense that everything in your vignette belongs.

The part about doodling when no association came to mind was completely new to me but made a lot of sense. When doing something completely irrelevant, your mind tends to come up with something unexpected. If you do it, please share it here.

Here is my exercise - it turned (no pun intended) out to be a pretty cool reflection:

Turning, days and nights blend in as the earth revolves around with the moon and the planets, on the stage we call the sky, a stage studded with the lights of the stars at night, and covered with clouds and azure during the day. Day is time for activity, night, for rest and sleep. Even on a warm summer night when the air is filled with the chirping of insects, you can't wipe away the feeling of loneliness that comes down on you as the sun goes down. It may have to do with the mysterious bone-white illumination of the moon, or all the little stars strewn in the black sky that make one nostalgic and romantic, even emotional and sentimental. This is when you notice a hole inside you, and your eyes see, like a screw boring into a wooden surface, this emptiness, and like the sawdust, this hole bleeds as your eyes plumb deeper.

You then inhale the smoke from sheesha and blow it out toward the ceiling, staring the smoke dissipate slowly, turning and twisting, expanding and vanishing, neither black nor white, but gray. On the large couch in Kamakura, you stare at the ceiling, surrounded by smoke that turns into thin fog that surrounds you like an aura. You still hear the chorus of the insects in the quiet house after a weekend of wild partying, and embrace loneliness along with the ghosts of your partygoers. With loneliness comes a special kind of agitation. You call it boredom, because it is bored out of your chest with that feeling of loneliness that comes with sunset.

In this state of mind, your ears often hear the piano playing the Moonlight Sonata, one of Beethoven's best. Music wafts up from your memory, those tunes you played by yourself in the confines of a dark chapel in high school, expressive and comforting, evocative and inspiring, your fingers against those black and white ivory keys, surrounded, like the smoke from sheesha, by music that is neither black or white, but gray, the gray of emotions, the gray of ambiguity, the gray of creativity, dream, and illogic. Turning, night becomes day, and you wake up with the sun, slowly coming out of the fog of your night, from the gray of the night, and regaining your powers of words, logic, and reality in black and white.

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