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Link to Think

We cannot help but put bits of information together to create bigger ideas. An idea is a 'mental form', and we are all pretty good at making up these structures. In fact we do it naturally. Consciously we are aware of 'trains of thought' – lines of ideas that fit logically together. The subconscious part of the mind, the dreaming realm that seethes with creativity, weaves networks of ideas all the time, that constantly feed back into the vast and complex 'map of reality' that lies inside our heads. One way of generating more raw material for writing is to tap into this incredible networking engine that is the subconscious realm.

36 icons in a grid

Look at the picture (click it to enlarge it). Here we have thirty-six little pictures. Some of them are immediately recognisable, while some of them may seem ambiguous and puzzling. How do you feel about not knowing what some of these images might be? A healthy approach is to decide to feel comfortable in this situation. If you're happy not to know the 'right answer' just yet, that keeps the doorway open to explore many possibilities later.

We will locate items on the grid by going 'along the corridor and up the stairs'. In other words, we count along the bottom, beneath the first row, and then count upwards. So 3/4 corresponds to the image of the bird, 5/2 leads us to the castle and so on.

Prove to yourself that your mind can pop up ideas quickly and easily. Use a dice (I never say 'die') to select images at random. Put yourself in a calm, relaxed state. Expect only that you'll have good ideas very soon. There's no need to try to work anything out.

Roll the dice twice to pick one image. Now pick a second image and let your mind link them together. Notice the first impression that comes along. It might be a simple, literal link or a broader, more metaphorical impression. In any event, scribble down your idea. I just rolled 2/6 and 5/3. What occurred to me was that the spiderweb represented the networks of ideas I've just been talking about, while the 'pair of compasses' icon suggested going outside the circle into fresh fields, but keeping the focus or centre safe.

What does this mean precisely? I don't know yet – but I feel comfortable with not knowing the answer(s) right now. I'm content to let the notion simmer in the back of my mind and to let further insights come along later. And for me that's the essence of creative thinking.

But what if the vague notions I've picked off the grid don't turn into something clearer? If you doubt yourself in this way you are denying the power of your own imagination. A vital aspect of boosting creative ability is to maintain a clear intent that things will happen and turn out well. Intent is active and positive. (Hope, by the way, is on the other hand passive, static and can be riddled with uncertainty.) I intend to have clear ideas, and by telling myself so I am constantly instructing my brain to do its work effectively.

You can create this kind of focus immediately. Let's go back to our grid and consider the first scene of a story (it doesn't matter if this story doesn't yet exist). Roll the dice twice to select one item off the grid. Anticipate that wherever you land you'll find out something about how the story will start…

I rolled 1/3 and landed on the rather sinister-looking long-nailed hand. That very image would make for a great opening paragraph. How would the rest of that scene unfold? I don't know yet, but I could use the grid to guide me further (see below), or just let that opening image simmer in my mind and wait for more ideas to come – as I know they will.

A little trick that helps the imagination to do its work is found in the phrase 'whatever the dice selects will tell us something about…' That instruction is 'artfully vague', which means that we are giving the brain a definite task – we will be told something – but the outcome is vague. There are endless possibilities as to what it might be. Remember that these techniques are most effective when you are not trying hard to figure out ideas. We are not working primarily with the conscious, analytical part of the mind at this point.

But now for some further focus. You can construct a sequence of events for a possible story by playing the zig-zag-story game. Return to the grid and locate yourself at the bottom left hand corner. Roll the dice once so that you pick an item along the bottom row. Tell yourself that wherever you land you will find out something about how the story starts (scribble down your insights). Roll the dice again; this might take you around the corner on to the second row. Wherever you land will tell you something about what happens next. From here continue making dice rolls that move up the grid snakes-and-ladders style. Wherever you land you will be told something about the next bit of your story. Along the top row, as you choose a final image or two, you will be told something about how your story could end.

You now have a sequence of events more or less clearly arranged. If something in the sequence doesn't make enough sense, go back to the resource: roll the dice twice and wherever you land you will be have an insight into how to make any area of confusion clearer.

— Steve Bowkett.

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Posted by: Kevin Machin Date: April 10, 2017 6:10 pm
Categories: Resources Tags: exercises
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