Have you ever found yourself stuck in your writing like a child on a rocking horse? Rocking back and forth, writing and editing, and wondering why your story doesn’t take you anywhere?
As a writer for a local weekly newspaper, I couldn’t afford the luxury of writing and editing. I just had to write and worry about editing later; there’s something about a deadline that moves you along.
So how do you learn to move beyond the wooden horse, to the real horse, that story or article that will take you across vistas where the sun sets in marmalade skies and where the grass ripples like a green sea?
As a painter, I’ve learned the value of painting from the right side of your brain. The right brain paints what it sees, whereas the left paints what it thinks it should be. I wondered to myself if there were something for writers along these same lines. I discovered there was.
Our brains are divided into two hemispheres right and left and are joined by a strange piece of gray matter called the corpus collusum. The corpus collusum acts like a switching station. In right-brain driven individuals it tends to be larger. The right brain could be referred to as the feminine or creative side (the writer) whereas the left-brain (the editor) could be referred to as the male or logical side.
The left brain provides us with language, syntax, denotation, analytical thought, logic, math, etc. In the right brain, we discover creativity, patterns of sound, metaphor, ambiguities, and paradox.
In right-brain painting classes the teacher gets you to let go of the image of what you think you see, to seeing only what is there and consequently drawing it. This is done by taking a picture, placing it upside down, and covering up all but a little portion of the picture. You begin to draw only what you see on the page. As you move along, you uncover a little more of the picture as you draw. Practice this sometime to learn to free up your right brain.
You may be wondering — do you write upside down? No — you don’t. According to Gabrielle Lusser Rico, author of the book Writing The Natural Way, “if you can speak, form letters on the page, know the rudiments of sentence structure, take a telephone message, or write a thank-you note, you have sufficient language skills to learn to write the natural way.”
In her first chapter, “Releasing Your Inner Writer,” Rico describes the two different hemispheres of the brain as “Sign and Design” Mind. She describes the interplay between the two hemispheres and lets us know that any good solid writing is collaboration between these two talents of the two hemispheres.
In her second chapter lay the real gems. Here’s where we learn to “cluster” or “map” our creative thinking process. She calls clustering the “doorway to your design mind.” The method she utilizes begins with a “nucleus word” or short phrase that “acts as the stimulus for recording all the associations that spring to mind in a very brief period of time.”
You take your nucleus word or phrase and write it in the middle of a page, drawing a circle around it. Then you let yourself free associate. Every thought, feeling, or idea that comes from that word you write down in little bubbles away from that “nucleus word” but attached by a line. You keep going until you feel the shift in your mind to quit. You may have to do this several times before you recognize the feeling. It’s ok — tell yourself it’s just play.
She tells us that this methodology is not “merely the spilling of words and phrases at random, but something much more complex: for the Design mind, each association leads inexorably to the next with a logic of its own even though the Sign mind does not perceive the connection.” This is learning to write from the creative side of your brain.
This methodology of clustering is like throwing a rock into a pond, it unfolds from the center, each ripple, or thought moving outward. After the completion of the clustering, (and you will learn to know when this occurs), you write a vignette, a poem, whatever strikes you, using the words from your clustering spider web and whatever else comes out of you.
What you’ll find is an interesting piece, almost like poetry, with an undiscovered beauty emanating from within you. It’s a very rewarding experience.
With enough practice, you won’t even need to do the “clustering” approach, as you’ll be able to feel the shift internally into that hemisphere of the brain, not unlike shifting into high gear.
Peter Elbow, the author of “Writing with Power” says, “When we were little we had no difficulty sounding the way we felt; thus most little children speak and write with real voice.”
Read your writing aloud. Words are meant to be spoken aloud. When you hear it, you’ll hear those places where it doesn’t flow and you’ll feel it. They’ll stick out of your sentences and paragraphs like stickers in your socks.
As a writer — it’s also important that you allow yourself time. Time to practice, time to play, time to perfect. With time, you’ll discover yourself as a writer. You’ll find your voice. You’ll lift it to sing.
Try different things. Write poetry. Write a movie critique. Write a story. Try writing a newspaper article, a how-to. Try describing the indescribable. Challenge yourself. There’s nothing that says you have to show it to anybody. Most professional writers (and best-selling authors) have scads of journals they wouldn’t even show their best friends.
Writing doesn’t necessarily mean sculpting every word from your mind with a chisel. Your head is not a rock. Be gentle with yourself. Enjoy, kick back, let loose, try this clustering method, learn to relax that muscle between your ears, and who knows, one day, all of sudden, you just might find yourself writing.