Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are You In Your Write Mind?

I’ve been scouting out writing exercises on sagging middles to include in our group newsletter, and happened to find a couple in a copy of an “O” magazine I picked up without even knowing they were in there–something about serendipity, and the universe providing... Anyway, they’re from an article by Martha Beck in the November 2009 issue, and there are a few other ‘find yourself/be yourself’ articles that are interesting reading, too, if you have a chance to look at a copy (including some advice from Anne Lamott, Janet). Martha Beck has written six books, including Steering by Starlight, and her article touches on how to ‘tap into our creative right brains”. She discusses the science behind it, which is worth reading in itself, but I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself.

She started by talking about her Kitchen Sink strategy when she hits a blank wall in writing: read bits (a few paragraphs) of multiple unrelated books/articles (a mix of fiction and non, as well as genres), relax (wash the dishes, go for a run, play music, etc.), and think of the problem before and periodically during this process, then drop it. Chances are you’ll have a lightbulb moment at some point along the way, and even if the first light fizzles out, there’s more where that came from. Once you encourage the right brain to come up with solutions it will do so “more and more abundantly”, as she says. She also says that every “content creator” she’s met (writers, cartoonists, TV producers, etc.) uses some version of this.

I am going to digress slightly here as I’m reminded of an exercise Judith Bowen described in a workshop several years ago, one that I’ve seen labelled as brainstorming, only Judith put a bit of structure on it that will “encourage” that abundance that Martha mentioned. If you realize you have a sagging middle, or have hit the wall, list out 10 options for what can happen next. It’s likely that the first few will come quickly, and be obvious, but make yourself put down ten, even if the last few look ridiculous. Judith told us that often, even if the last couple are not workable as is, they contain the kernel of something that will be, and it won’t be obvious or trite.

Okay, back to Martha Beck. She notes that the kitchen sink method works on other problems you may be wrestling with, not just writing, but regardless of the issue you want to resolve, she noted three exercises to do regularly to prime that right mind of yours so that it’s ready to go when you throw the kitchen sink at it.

1. Sign your name every which way. This came from her favourite teacher and artist, Will Reiman, and is a simple enough exercise, but definitely a work out. Sign your name. Okay now, do it again but this time do it in mirror writing, right to left. Now sign upside down. Then backward and upside down. Repeat until you can sign in all directions and, as Ms Beck said, “Good luck”.

2. Have a bilateral conversation with yourself. With a pencil in your right hand (even if you’re left-handed) write the question: “How’s it going?” Now switch to your left hand and write whatever pops up. The nondominant hand’s writing will be shaky, but that’s okay. The point is not to be neat, but to notice that your twin hemispheres have different personalities. The right side of the brain controls the left hand, and will say things you don’t know you know. The right brain specializes in assessing physical and mental feelings, and often offers solutions (that’s some of that science I was going to avoid–and key to the kitchen sink approach).

3. Learn new moves. This gets the right hemisphere of your brain to “move” in an unfamiliar way, be it a complicated dance step or a new yoga posture. She suggested the following: Walk a few steps, noticing how your arms swing opposite your legs. Now walk with your right arm and right foot going forward simultaneously, then the left hand and left foot. If that’s not difficult, do it backward, or with your eyes closed–the point is to master a variation that’s initially difficult but ultimately difficult.

So now you have a few exercises to help you get into your write mind. Anyone have any other particular favourites to share?


Karyn Good said...

Great post, Molli. As a recent fan of writing exercises, I will definitely keep the ones you suggested in mind, especially as I write my way through the month of November and for which I need to be in my write mind. :)

I will definitely try these and see how things work out!

Janet said...

Great ideaas to flex our creative muscles, Molli. Thanks for posting them. I'm going to check out that magazine because you know how crazy I am for Anne Lamott.

And I've done the List Ten Things Exercise (thanks to your suggestion at one of the retreats). It really helped get the story flowing again.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Molli,
I've heard of the exercise where you write down ten things that could happen next. I believe Donald Maass uses it in his "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook". He claims that breakout novels often have unexpected things happen which make them so intriguing and special. One way to find those unexpected things is to use the exercise you mention and not settle for the first thing you can think of.

Talk about serendipity. A writing exercise in Oprah's magazine? Who'd a thunk it?

Take care, Molli.

Molli said...

Hello all, just checking in before I behave myself and help my DH to do something about supper.

Karyn, have fun with these, and here's to you for doing the November thing!

Janet... hmm... flexing muscles... are you looking at 'those' websites again? And yes, I know how much you like Ms Lamott so I hope the magazine is still on the shelves.

Judy, I've never read anything by Donald Maass (or is it Maas??)... anyway, I keep meaning to but haven't so thanks for commenting on his "Workbook". I'll add it to my library list.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Molli. I've heard about a lot of writing exercises to get through writer's block but this is the first time I've heard of kicking the opposite part of your brain in gear. But it makes sense, doesn't it. Good job.

As for me, I may suffer writer's block for my blogs occasionally, but I seem to have too much imagination for my stories. Thank Goodness!