Yesterday I tried the “clustering” technique for the first time. I was not pleased.
“Clustering” is an idea generation technique where you start with a core idea in the center (the nucleus), and start jotting other notions around it. This sort of random, free-association is what the right-brain does best, and clustering is a way to do that without the left-brain getting in the way.
In the book (Writing the Natural Way), Rico tells of how easily people fall into the technique of clustering, how even second graders are able to generate story ideas using it. It’s the “rare individual,” she says, who has problems with it.
Meet a “rare individual.”
It isn’t that I think the technique does not work. Far from it. As I was clustering topics around the nucleus word (“Turn”) I had several flashes of stories and essays that might build out of some of the branches I was building. What I didn’t get was Rico’s “a-ha!” moment, where it all falls together and the unifying “whole” is perceived. The shift from clustering to writing wasn’t seamless and natural; it was forced and unsatisfying.
But I think I may know why. It’s my damned left-brain.
My left-brain is a bastard. He accepts nothing but reasoned input, and expects nothing but perfection. He is determined to do well, and do well the first time. Failure is not an option. However, in this case, I believe he’s responsible for my failure.
I could sense my left-brain butting in, trying to divine the “correct answer”–as if there could be one in this type of exercise. I felt him clamping down on the free-association of the clustering process, allowing only the most literal branchings from the word “Turn.”
When clustering turned to writing, I actually made false starts, immediately editing my output, sure that what I’d started wouldn’t be good enough to achieve the desired goal.
I’m going to try this exercise a couple of times over the weekend because I believe it will work, and work well, if I can just get my left-brain to shut the frak up.