Category Archives: Brainstorming

Block and blog

Just this morning, the phrase “writer’s blog” entered my mind, which, naturally, in my mind anyway, evoked the more common phrase “writer’s block.” The latter is a concern to just about every writer I know, denoting those times when nothing comes to the head or nothing gets down on paper anyway. Countless articles and books have been devoted to this phenomenon, but it’s not my concern here.

Snoopy is probably just thinking too hard.
Up on the rooftop, he’s also in the doghouse.

Probably because, at this age or stage of my life, said block is not a problem for me. Rather just the opposite, as those who know me, the way my wife knows me, for example, must surmise. Writer’s blog — sometimes blah or meh as it is — is, rather, a condition of full-bore verbal excess, or logorrhea, where the words rush out pell-mell, impelled by word associations or sound klangs, as we have here (block blog → bug: whatever spills out of the cornucopia of sound, you use it). I drive my wife crazy, true, by singing constantly, snatches of this, that, or the other song from years ago, usually pop songs or classical Lieder, it doesn’t matter, and this material, like the material in the mind of a psychoanalyst’s patient, or analysand, must be worked through.

What I’m getting at is that the apparently formless or meaningless sounds of our language, its klangs or music, can form a large if usually unexamined part of what impels the writer to write. These are unconscious or half-conscious motive forces, it can be, but where can they lead us?

Before he or she can make much sense of these sounds, I suggest, he’d better be prepared to make nonsense — no sense for the time being — or risk making no sense ever. Isn’t the best way to loosen up for your on-stage performance, the finished product, just to get way down and loosey-goosey to begin with? If we’re talking student essays, more than a few of which I’ve shepherded through to completion, we may be talking what writing teachers like to call “pre-writing” or “brainstorming.” Before the brain can be productive, it has to be awake, even if it’s awake in a muggy way. So the writer starts humming, or singing, or committing nonsense to paper. He babbles like a child, the child he is. And refuses to censor himself before he’s gotten going.

At a recent session of a writer’s group with which I’m associated, one of the other writers brought in a tremendously detailed outline of the novel she plans to write. All this work followed the prescripts of one or another of the literary gurus out there in the self-help writer’s market. (Gurus who may or may not ever have produced a work of creative genius.) Page after page of outline and character background and analysis were poured forth. It was exhausting just listening, or looking, at this pre-production. “Now all you have to do,” I remarked, “is write the book.”

Poets, of course, aren’t held to the same high, and foolish, regard for what passes all too easily for truth as fiction writers and factual writers. There could be far worse ways to get going than babbling. Or blogging.

Blog → block → blah. And, as Webster’s gives by way of “blah” synonyms: “bunkum, humbug, hooey, eyewash, twaddle, bosh.” Be willing to risk ’em, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, all the rich and various ways to make no sense before you make perhaps too much. As my fourth grade nun, old Sister Peter, would say, back in the day, “Bunk! Rubbish! Fiddlesticks! Nonsense!”

Golden silence

silence is golden
Silence is indeed golden. And equally rare.

Took Ruby to her school this morning and, so, decided I’d just mosey down the road to do some headwork at the coffee house and work out at the gym.

Went to Mama Carmen’s, on College Ave, a hangout I like, for its good coffee, friendly ambiance, and ample work space. But this morning, I couldn’t get comfortable, either for reading or working on the computer. The first seat I took, a sofa before a coffee table, next to a lamp, was too wallowy and too shallow for working on my laptop. The second seat, at a counter hidden behind a brick wall, was fine for reading a book and marking it up, as I usually do. (Am reading colonial American captivity narratives for their relation to a novel I’m researching.) But in both places loud pop music was driving me mad.

Most Mama Carmen customers are young ‘uns, in their teens or twenties, including I think many U of A undergrads. If they mind the music, they give no indication, as they calmly go on chatting with others or listening to whatever they prefer via headsets. But I’ve never been able to do much headwork with music playing, however soothing or otherwise enticing it might be.

So I packed up and drove to the Pat Walker Center for Seniors, which includes a medical clinic, a meeting room, a lounge, administrative offices, and a gym. I sat, all by myself, in the lounge, which has several long tables with chairs, a few armchairs, and a sofa, plus vending machine and small library. Launching again into the captivity narratives, I was formulating some helpful ideas for my project, when I thought suddenly of the “Magna Silentia” enforced at the Catholic seminary I attended in the 9th grade. Talk about a long time and long space away! The Latin phrase occurred to me vividly: “Magna Silentia,” or the Great Silence.

This was sleep time, after the lights went out in our dormitory and before the alarm sounded to wake us, loud and shrill, for morning mass. No talking, no trivial noise was tolerated. We turned in, prayed, meditated, and conked out.

A lot of water over the dam since Catholic boyhood — personal water, I mean, and cultural. I’ve grown, and aged, and become both more thoughtful and more voluble, able to enter into or initiate conversations with just about anyone, often with a joke to break the ice. But our culture too has gotten louder if not more thoughtful. Just about everywhere we go these days we get Muzak or other pop music designed, I suspect, to fill the ever increasing emptiness in our heads. God forbid we should have to fill that space with something of our own. Let’s just turn on the noise!

So imagine my distress, then, when a troupe of white-hairs shuffled into the lounge and started setting up an event. (I saw tchotchkes on a table, doilied dollies and self-help brochures.) And not content to work in silence, these old folks began discussing, what else, their medical maladies. Their various gastrointestinal distresses, their prophylactics. Oh my god, save me from such twaddle.

Whether juvenile or geriatric, noise is not the natural, or welcome, accompaniment of thought. But then, it could be, thinking, like silence itself, is a rare bird these days. Inhabiting pop culture might be compared to birding: you go out, in camo, and look for hours and hours, patiently, meditatively, for that one rare bird we call thought.

Facebook and its discontents

If we’d all invested in Facebook at the start, we’d all be rich. And have no need to scribble for a living.

On the other hand, scribbling, in whatever form, can be fun.

Ask your friends and neighbors, who may spend way too much time on Facebook, where you can cop a plea for sympathy or attention now. Or send an IM that explodes on your world with the force of an IED.

Such scribbling isn’t necessarily publishable in any other form. It’s not the kind of writing that goes on your resume. Or establishes you as a serious writer or communicator.

Yet serious writing and communicating, too, can be fun. It doesn’t have to be dull or packed with jargon or cliches. It can be alive to the needs of the moment and the needs of your particular audience.

Having written for many years, and taught college writing too, I have strategies for making your communications fun and effective, whether you write them yourself or enlist the aid of a pro like me.

Let’s start by brainstorming, shall we? Wasting time together in one of those paradoxical playful sessions that rewards itself many times over.

You first! Put down a word. Think of another. Think of your audience — that grateful beast. And then another. (Don’t worry. This is not yet for publishing! Play on!)