Hello folks! Mark here with a few thoughts on how I break myself out of the creative doldrums. I've written previously asking about where we find our sources of inspiration. Sometimes, however, inspiration doesn't show and patience wears thin. During those times stuff roils around inside my brain, refusing to congeal enough to frame coherent thoughts. I've gone through more than my fair share of that experience. I don't like it, but I have come to learn there are reasons for such stagnation. I am pretty lazy as a rule, or at least I tend to think I am, but as I contemplated the length and depth of this most recent bout I came to realize a few truths. And reviewing my past bouts with blockage, I realize those truths have been consistent.
I now know that routine can actually work against my creative process. And yet I also know that when I commit to discipline I produce usable stuff. On the surface it might appear paradoxical, but when I look closely I realize certain kinds of routine tend to wear me out physically and intellectually. I shut down. Things gestate. In time stuff begins to come out, and it usually takes the form of verse first before working into prose. This has been true since I first began putting stuff down on paper as a youngster. I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement yesterday, avoiding dealing with a seventeen page edit letter, and I found some of my old notebooks. It was strange getting reacquainted with my sixteen year old self. I found the first reference to Talyior's name. I found the first use of the Harpist of Light, the tag Eleni attaches to Donari in her piece to him from King's Gambit, in a poem and short story in an old spiral notebook. My younger self loved narrative verse. People have said there's poetry within my prose. Some things don't really change.
What I think I mean is I don't tend to worry too much anymore about not finding the words. When verse starts to ooze out on the backs of essays or onto blank screens, I know something useful and substantial is on the way. I'm an old style percolating coffee pot. I can help the process along by making a few changes in my routine.
I've done the same sort of thing in my teaching. I'm a veteran; I know all about routine. When I sense my students and I getting a little stagnant, I throw in a curve to shake things up. Over the years my favorite method has been to join in with my class in a unique writing exercise. Young writers struggle with thinking too literally. I want them to push to metaphor and meaning. To that end I have everyone write down 4-5 unrelated terms or phrases, wad them up and toss them into a hat for a blind draw. No one gets to keep the one they wrote. The goal for the assignment is to compose an essay making use of those terms in such a way as to make a commentary about the human condition. I place several stipulations on the composition: 1) None of the terms/phrases and be taken or used literally. We have to change their meaning, turn them into concepts or ideas and develop prose that explains them clearly. 2) They have to develop each term as a chunk in the essay with balanced development. 3) They have to weave the "term-chunks" into a humanistic essay with a central focus.
Once the howls of dismay fade away, everyone realizes they have complete freedom to frame whatever truth they wish. Usually, a goodly handful surprise themselves by reaching some surprising insights. Historically, this essay has always been the most fun to read out loud. They get to experience discursive thinking and intellectual freedom--heady stuff in this era of standardized testing. What they get usually goes far, far beyond what ever grade they might receive. In fact, we grade the papers as a class.
I still recall the first set of terms I had to deal with when I first started doing this assignment with my students. A couple of my more precocious intellects came up with the following: Snotty nose hairs, Uhhhhh..., Under water kites, and Skittleosis. One of these days I'll post what I came up with--perhaps in the comments thread if anyone is interested.
So that is one way I shake things up. It helps break the routines in my teaching life, which in turn helps break up the blockages in my writing life. What do you do?