There was a poet. As a regular exercise, he would lock himself in his house and play Pink Floyd’s The Wall non-stop for two days. During this time, he would sit and jot down random words that came to mind. When the time was up, he would take the pieces of paper and cut them up so that each word was on one slip of paper. He then took all the slips of paper and sautéed them in a pan, ate them and then finally sat down to write.
Last night, tucked into bed I was listening to one of my podcasts from The Writing University (courtesy of iTunes U, which I will rave about before I end this post). I find it such a great way to end each day, either by writing long-hand my next scene, or if I don’t feel the muse, at least listen to people talk about writing.
Part of Wier’s presentation was about “Chance Operations”. The opening example above was one, albeit extreme, that she relayed. Apparently a common technique among poets (Chance Operation, not literally eating your words!), I had never heard of it – and after researching it online today, I find many examples. Not just poets, but also writers of all genres, photographers, musicians and artists using the technique. One common example used by poets is using numbers as the chance operation – so for example I open a book and take the 9th word from the first line, the 8th word from the second line, the 7th word from the third line and so on until i get to the 1st word from the 9th line. So here’s an example from a book I’m currently reading, We Were The Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates.
was, customer, out, barn, the, intensity, when, was, antique
The idea is to play with the words and see what – or if – you can structure something interesting out of them. I certainly did not come up with a complete sentence, but I can see where one who writes poetry could use this sort of thought generator. Reply to this post if you are creative enough to hit upon something here!
Another interesting part of the podcast was Wier describing a photography exhibit she visited. There was no introduction, so visitors just viewed the photos – a series of house fronts. Nothing special, just different houses. No great photo technique, just different houses. At the end of the exhibit, there was a poster that defined the exhibition. In all of these houses, horrific crimes had taken place – unspeakable violence. What effect did that have on the viewers? Well of course, as I would have, they would all go back to the beginning and look at all the photos again; trying to see if there were any clues. Of course there were not. It was just a study by this artist that proved that how we look at things depends on what information we have – and if the information we get is prior to or after we look at the art. As writers, we have to decide what information we give and when we dole it out. Makes all the difference in the world, right?
Just a thought-provoking seminar, so I hope you enjoy. And as promised, I do have to rave a bit on iTunes U. I may seem naive, and late to the party. I’m not quite sure why, in all these years of owning an iPhone and iPod, that I never clicked on this link. I feel like I’ve fallen into the sweetest candy store! Just plugging in “writers”, I’ve found the free MFA program I need! Happiness.
Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve downloaded so far:
- Start Writing Fiction – The Open University
- University of Iowa – The Writing University Podcast (this is where I listened to Weir)
- Writing at Wesleyan – Wesleyan University
- Warwick Writing Challenges – University of Warwick
- Creative Writing – The Open University
- Vanderbuilt University – The Writing Studio
- Ohio State – Writer’s Talk
- University of Alabama – Creative Writing / MFA Readings
Maybe there are others who don’t know about this great resource, so share and write on…