I am setting aside work on my new novel.
If you have a problem with this, take it up with Ray Bradbury.
Some comments on a recent post of mine got me thinking, and I went to get my copy of Dandelion Wine. I hadn’t read it for a long, long (loooong) time; such a long time, in fact, that I’m really a completely different person, and I knew I’d enjoy it more. I’ve always liked Ray’s stories–he and Roger Zelazny were the major influences on my decision to attempt writing, myself–so, an indulgence. I opened the book and began to read.
I didn’t make it past the foreword.
In the foreword, Ray writes of his daily routine, and the technique he uses to generate ideas. It wasn’t always easy for him.
I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment of course any decent idea folds up its paws, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.
He goes on to describe how he has learned to sit down each morning and start playing word association games, jotting down a word and then another, building relationships and patterns and with them, ideas. This triggered a memory in my mind. I purchased a book on just this sort of technique. I had intended to read it but I got sidetracked. Now…where did I put it?
I found the book, Writing the Natural Way, by Gabriele Rico, tucked neatly into my “Books on Writing” shelf, quietly collecting dust as if I’d already read it cover to cover. I cracked it open, leafed through a couple of pages, and saw, right there in a sidebar on page 17, the exact quote from Ray posted above.
It was a sign.
Okay, not a sign, but a reinforcing coincidence. Ray used word association in his generative process, and this book teaches the same technique (called “clustering” in Rico’s nomenclature). The book is highly recommended and has been a long-time bestseller. I needed to give it a try.
The main thrust of the book is that we need to “let go” when writing, and use the two hemispheres of our brain to our best advantage. It is laid out more like a course in writing than as a “how-to” book. Chapters build upon each other; they introduce a new topic or technique, provide exercises to utilize the information presented, and discuss results. There are 14 chapters, so for the next two weeks I’m going to go through it.
Chapter One gave an overview, and the exercises were designed to get a baseline, but I quickly found myself writing differently. Just by acknowledging the fact that I sensor myself when writing (the analytical left-brain often steps in and criticizes, stopping my creative right-brain in the middle of a wo—), I was able to keep that left-brain quiet.
Out of the first chapter’s exercises, I came up with some evocative images and ideas.
- My wife is like a trampoline; she grounds me, keeps me safe in a fall, but also boosts me to greater heights than I could achieve on my own.
- Sadness is like an erosive force that eats away at me from within, scouring me out, leaving nothing but bitter rind.
- Writing is like lovemaking, a seduction from afar, an intimacy with readers unknown.
These were not ideas I had thought before; these were brand new insights, born of the freedom that came from relinquishing control. There was also a progression, with each of the four 5-minute exercises, of my enjoyment. Writing…well…I love writing, and becoming reacquainted with that joy is well worth any delay.