Thursday, October 10, 2013

Writing Can Happen By Chance

One of the best ways to make contact with the Present moment for the purposes of writing is deciding to operate on chance.
Letting external factors decide how and what one writes is great practice in abandoning ego and stopping the false attempt at control. (Trying to control outcome is one of the greatest traps a struggling writer faces. This attempt at control typically takes the form of trying to be perfect on-the-spot, as though an audience were physically present as we write: basically, editing as we compose. As I have argued in other posts, virtually the only thing we can control as we write is our relation to the Present moment--how mindful we are of the circumstances of writing.)
Working with chance can be done on the phrase level and also on the larger structural level.
It can be used for practice--for developing the "muscle" of acceptance, the one which mindfully observes what arises in the moment, embraces constant change in our writing condition, and quiets the constant urge to judge and sort our written production.
Operating by chance as a writer can also open up whole new angles of vision, critical thinking, and imagination.
Chance can also be used to find whole new texts to write.
Here are two exercises I have done with my students.
Exercise in Chance #1:
This one can be used to develop intrapersonal voice--specifically, a voice tinged with metaphor and the blending of the senses. It's a good one for creative writing.
Make a list of 25 or so one-word abstractions on the right side of a page or screen. By "abstraction," I mean words such as "optimism," "faith," "patriotism," "fear"--things which can't be directly experienced through the senses. Concepts.
Then make a second list of 25 adjectives on the left side of the page or screen. Try for as varied adjectives as possible: "scrambled," "hairy," "aquamarine," "repentant," and so forth.
Then randomly (without looking or predetermining) poke your finger at both columns and start writing down the pairs you obtain: "scrambled fear," etc.
Spend a few minutes freewriting or developing a poem around your favorite Adjective-Abstraction combination.
Exercise in Chance #2:
This one is good for larger macro structure matters. It should be used on a document in progress.
In a large envelope, put 25 or so phrases for various structural acts concerning writing. For instance: "Use a long sentence," "Define a term," "Write a paragraph based around an image," or "Use repetition in some way in your next 5 sentences."
As you write or even revise a longer draft, pull phrases from the envelope and, of course, follow whatever the phrases ask.

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