Friday, 13 April 2012

Messiness! Accessing my Imagination.

I'm afraid of being messy. Not so much in general, though I have recently decluttered and found homes for all my books. No, I'm afraid of producing messy first drafts.

I want to write messy drafts. I want to let my imagination run free and produce possibilities that would never emerge if I had a precise plan. However, the perfectionist part of me is afraid of not having a plan and afraid of giving my imagination freedom. Sure, she'll let me insert the odd crazy idea, but not a whole draft that spreads out and splatters characters everywhere.

My best work seems to develop when I'm not thinking through every sentence as soon as I write it. Impromptu exercises often spark more ideas than hours of agonising. Freewriting produces gems amongst the drivel. However, these methods can be difficult to get into; I have trouble letting go of the perfectionist who whines 'wouldn't this time be better spent on actually writing stories?'


So how do I access this messy tangle of thoughts?

1. Get into a character's head.
Or several characters' heads. I find this quite easy - I'm not sure why - and being in someone else's head means my perfectionist isn't allowed to pop up. I just freewrite whatever's on the character's mind and something interesting usually pops up. If not, I move onto the next character.

2. Form a 'play chain'.
I let my imagination run free when I was a kid, especially when playing. Nothing was an obstacle, because I could just pretend. A 'play chain' is that list of possibilities quickly succeeding each other that crops up when kids play: 'this box is a ship... in the middle of a storm... on Mars... and there's a hole in the bottom...'

It builds up like a tidal wave until it becomes something exciting for everyone involved. As an adult, I form 'play chains' simply by thinking up possibilities and refusing to discard any. Then I consider what opportunities are presented by these possibilities, and so on.

3. Pick n mix.
Not the sweets - though I find them hard to resist! Pick n mix is simply writing loads of stuff on little bits of paper and picking some out. There are hundreds (if not more) versions of this exercise, with varying rules. For instance, some say you have to choose a profession (doctor/lawyer/teacher/dog trainer), a setting (churchyard/shop/beach/airport) and  type of interaction (argument/stealing from someone/helping someone/flirting).

I prefer an unstructured approach because fewer rules can result in more possibilities. I write anything that pops into my head - pieces of furniture, types of food, personality traits, emotions, ages, historical periods, types of transport, names, passionate actions (kiss/slap/protest), genres... Whatever. I pick out at least 3, usually around 5. Then I have to come up with an idea to combine them - however ridiculous, my job is to make it work. If the results are too banal and generic, I pick a couple more pieces of paper.

In many ways, it's a puzzle: I have to form the linking idea/plot and then I have to turn it into a believable story. Even when I fail, this exercise encourages me to explore more possibilities. Maybe I can't combine a prostitute, a cheerleader, a desert and a chocolate bar. But thinking about it might result in a story about how a cheerleader copes when a holiday goes wrong and she gets lost in the desert, or a prostitute who accepts chocolate as payment!


How do you let your imagination run free and produce messy drafts full of fun and promise?

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