Wednesday 23 July 2014

Another episode of "General to Specific": A Writing Exercise; Also, Abstract to Concrete

First Go-Round: WhatEvs. In writing, specificity allows writing to reflect the uniqueness of things and ideas in the world. Small variations from a type will change a caricature or cliche into a character or inventive phrase (and thus a new idea). There is something to be said for simplicity, of course; but if the aim is not to go for simplicity, then specificity is a good tool.

This exercise is also a way to generate ideas quickly. Start with one sentence that is general or abstract (or both). Rewrite the sentence and add a level of specificity or concreteness (or both).

Rewrite that sentence and increase the specificity or concreteness again. Carry on until you can't take it anymore, or, better yet, until you think you have a tiny narrative worth expanding on.

1. Things are here.
2. Boxes arrive at the building.
3. Square cardboard cases trickled in to the factory.
4. Dishwashers in their cardboard boxes trickled in at a rate of two a day to the factory.
5. The recalled dishwashers, some of them re-packed in their original boxes by their anal, angry owners, trickled in at a rate of two a day to the factory in Anaheim.

Who knew that I had an interest in  dishwashers and in Anaheim? But apparently so.


Second Go-Round: General to Specific. I am going to do this exercise again, except this time I am going to try to distinguish between General to Specific and Abstract to Concrete. "General" means "applicable to many things or circumstances." "Specific" means "applicable to a small subset of things or circumstances."

"Abstract" is not the same as general, not really. "Abstract" means"related to the nonmaterial world, to ideas or concepts." "Concrete" means "related to the material world, such as what can be understood by the five senses." (ESP not included.) That is, it's possible to have an abstraction that is general or specific, or to have a generality that is abstract or concrete.

I am starting with the same sentence as above, but I will force myself to go from general to specific and stave off any urges to think about abstraction or concreteness. This will be hard to do. My model sentence is suitably bland to have it both ways in the general-specific or abstract-concrete spectrums.  I will also force myself to keep as closely as possible to my silly dishwashers and Anaheim, though I won't kill myself if the sentences deviate.

1. Things are here.
2.  Elements exist in this region.
3. Non-continguous monads co-exist in this field.
4. Non-continguous monads of the phenomenal world form the content of this discursive field.
5. Discrete words about human experience constitute the vocabulary of legal discourse.

This was difficult. I felt like I was making things up, and I couldn't really follow my dishwasher-Anaheim model. But I did avoid having sentences that deal with the sensory world, more or less.

Third Go-Round: Abstract to Concrete.

1. Things are here.
2.  Objects exist nearby.
3. Boxes sit one metre away.
4. Cardboard boxes are stored one metre away from Bindi.
5. Cardboard dishwasher boxes hunker down one metre away from Bindi's office in the Anaheim factory.

PS: I kind of did this exercise in a different post.

Monday 7 July 2014

Five Statements about Creativity

Mozart knew a thing or two about creativity. (Wikimedia Commons)
  • "[C]reativeness is the lucky readiness to feel, to sense, to see an opportunity--to discover and to invent." Josef Albers, quoted in Black Mountain by Martin Duberman.
  • "For when you come to think of it, the only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, in the poet, in them." Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write.

  • "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer--say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me, I retain in memory and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way it occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeable to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments." Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, quoted in Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write.

  • "First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash." Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.
  • "Fundamental to any art form is the image, whether it be the physical image as created by the dancer and choreographer, the musical image of the composer and musician, the visual image of the plastic artist of the verbal image, often metaphorical, of the writer and poet....While, however, it may be quite easy to see the role of image as it relates to the visual artist, it may be less easy to do so with respect to the writer. The word 'image' is being used here to convey what can only be described as the irreducible essence--the i-mage--of creative writing; it can be likened to the DNA molecules at the heart of all life. The process of giving tangible form to this i-mage may be called i-maging, or the i-magination. Use of unconventional orthography, 'i-mage' in this instance, does not only represent the increasingly conventional deconstruction of certain words, but draws on the Rastafarian practice of privileging the 'I' in many words.'I-mage' rather than 'image' is, in fact, a closer approximation of the concept under discussion....In her attempt to translate the i-mage into meaning and non-meaning, the writer has access to a variety of verbal techniques and methods--comparison, simile, metaphor, metonymy, symbol, rhyme, allegory, fable, myth--all of which aid her in this process. Whatever the name given to the technique or form, the function remains the same---that of enabling the artist to translate the i-mage into meaningful language for her audience." M. NourbeSe Philip, "The Absence of Writing or How I Almost Became a Spy."