The Quest for the Great, First Sentence


This sentence is the most difficult sentence to write. It has troubled writers since they started writing to entertain readers. Writers often sort through hundreds to thousands of words to find a great sentence, and no sentence is more important than the first. The quest can be humbling for even the best writers. They consider it so difficult that if they write one great sentence a day, it’s a good day, and they figure that about 1% of the sentences they write are great sentences. If that’s the case, what percentage of that percentage are great enough to be provocative first sentences? Some of the most famous admit that they spent so much time (months and even years) trying to find that one great sentence to start a new book that it’s no wonder why so many of them turn to drink?   

I wrote a great sentence once. After I wrote it, I couldn’t believe I wrote it. I even took some time out to stare at it and appreciate it. I was so proud. Wow, I thought, that is a great sentence, and I wrote it. It can take writers pages to say what we want to say, and some of the times it takes paragraphs. Every once in a great while, we do it in one clear and concise sentence. When that sentence falls out of our head, no matter how hard we worked to achieve it, it almost seems like an accident.

The problem, I realized soon after I spent a minute appreciating that moment for what is was, was that the great sentence didn’t happen until the conclusion. It felt wasted, because I know that if I am lucky enough to have a reader click on my article, most of them aren’t going read all the way through to the conclusion. With that in mind, I tried something revolutionary for me. I put that glorious sentence in the intro, and I rewrote the entire article accordingly. It paid off in this particular instance, for not only did this new, revised article become one of the best articles I’ve ever written, but it also attracted a number of readers.

If the average writer is anything like me, arriving at a conclusion is a journey. I don’t know how other writers operate, but nine times out of ten, I won’t know my conclusion until I get there. Some writers refer to this journey as the joy of discovery, and this journey often involves writing so much, so often, that a great sentence almost falls out of us every once in a great while. 

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What is a great sentence? Great sentences, by my definition, are not better than anyone else’s are. We do not write the words great sentence from an egotistical perspective. A great sentence is a relative term, defined by the writer, as the perfect way of summarizing and synthesizing everything we want to say. It is also the payoff for all the hard work we’ve done leading up to it. When we put in the work to read and understand another author’s point, we do it hoping that there will be a payoff, or an ultimate clarification often found in the conclusion. Writing, or at least my writing, is as much about discovery as it is for readers, and the payoff for all the hard work I put into writing the article is that one great sentence that clarifies everything I was trying to say, wraps it up, and puts what I consider a final, gleaming cherry atop the pie.   

There are also some cathartic feelings we attach to “nailing” that certain something that plagued us before we wrote that great sentence. When we write, we’re attempting to achieve some higher level of clarity on a topic, and when we’re able to clarify what we’re trying to write to the reader in one, great sentence, it helps us clarify it for ourselves. 

Great sentences do not arrive in the birthing process. Every writer has probably arrived at a great sentence in the first draft once or twice, but it happens to rarely that we don’t remember it. Great sentences usually arrive after the framework is complete. They often happen after the mild illness that drives us to write so often is somewhat satisfied that we have the foundation for a story, article, or novel. It usually happens after the self-imposed stress, anxiety, and obsessive behavior we have relaxes. We’re less robotic in this stage, more creative and more emotive, and that’s where the great sentences achieve life.

“What’s the perfect way of wrapping all this up?” we think while trying to wrap our article up with the perfect conclusion. When that “Aha!” moment finally arrives, and the writer writes a sentence that could be one of the best lines they’ve ever delivered, it can change the theme and scope of an article. It can also make us think that every hour we spent writing to that point was a waste, unless we realize that we found a better article than the original one we wrote.

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The internet is a blessing and curse for modern writers, as we can now reach an audience of hundreds of millions by clicking a mouse. The curse is that everyone else enjoys that same privilege. How do we separate ourselves from that overcrowded pack and write a quality article that attracts attention? A remedy, as opposed to the remedy, might be to take the conclusion we worked so hard to sum up our article and make it the lede.

It’s not hard to write an intro in a first draft, as it is often proves to be nothing more than a bridge between what we have in our mind and what we type out onto a screen or page. Yet, we might accidentally appreciate those words for helping us start that we assign them a precious quality. When we find a halfway decent start, we might want to show our appreciation to those words for helping us start by rewarding them with their righteous place at the top of the article. We might think it’s good enough to be good enough, and once the intro is complete, it’s completed. We’re grateful that we don’t have to obsess over it anymore. It did its job of moving the idea from mind to screen or paper, and it’s time to move on and worry about the rest. If it’s good enough for us, we think, it should be good enough to attract the reader. If the reader is attracted to it, we’ll reward them with a knock-your-socks off conclusion that might leave a great impression on the reader, a reputation in the reader’s mind, and a click on the subscription button.

In the editing process, however, our focus should turn to the reader, because we know that our readers don’t know how hard it was for us to write the article, and they honestly don’t care. They won’t care how precious those words were to us, and they don’t care about our process. The writer either writes great sentences or they don’t, and if they don’t, the reader heads on over to the dreaded (‘X’) that closes our web page.

Another reason it’s a little depressing when our best sentence doesn’t arrive until the conclusion is that if it’s that good it might transform the article, and if we want to write an article that supports that great sentence, we’ll have to spend another couple hours redoing the entire thing. If we recognize it for what it is, however, we should recognize that at least we found it. At that point, we should drop any facade that we’re a great writer, release ourselves from the leash of the preciousness of our words, and rewrite the whole thing according to that new article we found nestled within that great sentence.

It might sound counterintuitive to make the conclusion the intro, as some sentences have an intro beat to them and others sound more like conclusions, but a great sentence is a great sentence. What is a conclusion, if not a sentence, or series of sentences that summarize the most important elements of a story? What’s the difference between a great intro, or lede, and a great conclusion? Some of the times, a conclusion assumes that we already know the information expressed in the article, but more often than not, that’s an easy fix. It almost goes without saying now that in this age of hundreds of thousands of writers writing millions of articles, it’s vital that we captivate them with a great, first sentence regardless when we find it.

If a writer finds a great sentence in the midst of writing, they will need to find proper transitions, of course, but if they are able to accomplish a seamless transition between the paragraphs, the writer might be able to maintain the reader’s attention for at least two paragraphs with the new lede transitioning to our former, dynamic intro.

Most writers know how essential a great first line is, and some of the times, we might find hints of that great it in paragraph three and it might not hit us until the conclusion. The point is if we work hard enough at it, a great sentence might accidentally happen, and if it does we should feed and nurture it in the manner we do any of our other loved ones.

The problem arrives when we supplant that first lede with the original conclusion, and we work to a new conclusion. Does this second conclusion have a sentence greater than the first? Should we supplant the new lede with this second conclusion? Should we rinse and repeat, in other words, and keep repeating this process until we have a 1,400-word article of overlapping conclusions? I’ve yet to encounter such a problem, but if my next, edited conclusion is better than my first, I might go back and do it again, and again, as often as it works. This process doesn’t always work, of course. As I wrote, some conclusions assume too much to be quality intros, but I think that in the age of hyper AD-HD, internet readers, writers have to do whatever we can to attract readers and keep their attention, and this was but one way I found to do it when I was writing an article and I created one beautiful and intoxicating great sentence. 

https://leonardodavincigallery.com/what-is-leonardo-da-vinci-sfumato-technique/

Da Vinci’s Sfumato and Chekov’s Razor


Leonardo da Vinci introduced a mindset that every author should be employing in their writing, if they are not already. This mindset resulted from a technique da Vinci used in his paintings called sfumato, or “gone up in smoke”. I use it so often that I don’t think of it as a technique anymore, but I found it interesting to read the explorations of it by one most famous artists in history. The basic tenet of the sfumato technique da Vinci made famous, was to avoid using specific and concrete lines in his paintings. This might not sound like a novel technique to the accomplished artist of the day, but it was groundbreaking in its day. Da Vinci did not invent this technique, as some evidence suggests it dates back to the chiaroscuro effects used by ancient Greeks and Romans, but da Vinci took it to another level. As author Walter Isaacson wrote, Leonardo was so obsessed with using shadows and reflected light that he wrote fifteen thousand words on the topic, “And that is probably less than half of what he originally wrote,” Isaacson opined.

The sfumato technique also applies to writing. When an author begins writing a story, they characterize their main character with bold lines through unique, individualistic, and semi-autobiographical lines. The more an author explores that character, the more they chip away at strict characterization and allow the character to breathe for themselves in a manner that adds dimension. They characterize with shading and reflection, or refraction through supporting characters, until they have done little to characterize the main character except through their interactions with others and events. Their main character becomes more prominent through these literary devices, until the central character becomes the literary equivalent to an eye of the storm.

In writing, we call the sfumato technique “the show don’t tell” technique. The author uses supporting characters and setting to define their main character, and they use all of this to bring the events involved in their stories to life. The takeaway might be that the optimum characterizations are those characterizations that appear more organic to the reader. In other words, the author should be working his or her tail off to make the work appear so easy that the reader thinks anyone could do it.

Chekov’s Razor

The aspiring writer should also know the principles of Chekov’s Razor that they employ them so often in their writing that they don’t realize they’re using it. The idea of Chekov’s razor is that the first three paragraphs, or pages an author writes, are for the author, and the rest is for the reader. 

Anyone who knows anything about the writing process knows that the blinking cursor, or the blank page, can be daunting. To defeat the blinking cursor, the experienced writer starts writing. We can call this the discovery phase. In the discovery phase, the writing is gibberish that no one but the writer can understand. This is the “all play no work” phase for most writers, as it allows them to be creative. They love to write with an ending in mind, and they love the process of working to that ending. While working to the ending, the creative mind might change the ending, based on little points of discovery leading up to the original ending. Once that ending is changed, however, some of the little points leading up to it need to be changed. 

The greater takeaway for aspiring writers is to get the idea down before you forget it. Don’t worry about sequencing, chronology, grammar, spelling, or if this story is the base for the next great American novel. Just write it down and worry about all the editing later. Just writing a bunch of gibberish down, only the writer understands, opens them up to the subject matter. Once the author is in, the material might have the wherewithal to be in a near proximity to where a story lies, but the real story could take paragraphs, or pages, to develop.

Chekov’s razor focuses on threes, the first three paragraphs, and/or three pages of a manuscript, short story, or essay, but I’ve found this length arbitrary. When I begin a story, I think I have a full-fledged introduction on my hands. I don’t think anyone writes gibberish just to write gibberish, it feels like this could or should be the story at the time. I lock myself up when I try to determine if the writing is up to my standard, or if it’s going anywhere. I unlock myself by writing it and deleting later if necessary. 

 Chekov’s razor comes into play when we go back and delete if necessary. In those opening paragraphs is the gibberish that the writer used to familiarize them with the material. It was the entry point to defeat the blinking cursor.

In the course of writing past the blinking cursor stage, we discover pivot points that take us to the next stages of the story, but we don’t consider them anything more than what they are at the time. In the course of rewriting, however, we discover that the pivot point is the story. The frustration falls on two tracks, the first is that we fell in love with that original idea, and it’s tough to just walk away. The other is that we “wasted” so much time writing “the other” story that we loved. When writers achieve the ultimate point of objectivity, when they realize story is sacred, they begin sacrificing all the information they love to leave information you will. 

Thus, I don’t believe there is magic in the power of threes in employing Chekov’s Razor to storytelling. A central idea, or pivot point arrives in the course of writing, but the point of Chekov’s razor is to dump and delete the useless information the writer used to write the story.  

An important note to add here is that if most authors work the same way I do, we do not write for the expressed purpose of finding the core of our story. Our perspective is, we think we already have the story, and that the only chore involves building upon it. The discovery of the core of story often humbles the author and slaps them back to the realization that no matter how many times we write a story, the art of writing involves mining the brain for ideas rather than having a brain loaded with brilliant ideas. That conceit eventually reveals itself to those willing to write a lot of material, and it’s up to the author to recognize the difference for what it is, if they want a quality story.

It happens in the course of writing it, editing it after we’re done, or in the daydreaming stage that can last for days, weeks, or months. I do not enjoy deleting the chunks of material I’ve written, and I don’t think anyone does, but the quality author will develop the ability to recognize what portion of the story is for them and which portion is for the reader, and they will crib note or delete the part of the story that is for them.

I don’t consider the revelation of these techniques a glamorization of my process. I think it demystifies the process by suggesting that anyone can do this, as long as they write as often as they need to discover what should become the central focus for the reader. Every author needs to move past their conceit of their self-defined brilliance to find the story they’re trying to tell, and learn how to work from within it.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the most prominent use of Chekov’s razor can be found in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

How to Succeed in Writing XI: The Stages


“It is (the writer’s) job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. –George Orwell

We’ve all read authors who write from what Orwell calls the “immature stage”. They get locked in a stage of life they will not, or cannot, escape. They hate their parents, they cannot get over the fact that someone of the opposite sex has dumped them in an unceremonious manner, or they cannot get past the fact that their political party cannot win, and those mentalities are reflected in their writing. If, on the other hand, as Orwell states, a writer is afforded the ability to completely forget the transgressions and tragedies that made him miserable in his youth –that which may otherwise diminish their mental health– they may not be the writer they could’ve been if they learned how to embrace those demons. A quality writer, if Orwell’s thesis is to be believed, is one of those rare individuals who is cursed, and blessed, with the inability to forget, while capably moving to the next stage of maturity, coupled with the ability to recall all of those sentiments and mentalities they struggled with in their effort to achieve more mature stages.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsWe’ve all heard of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that lists the various needs a person must satisfy to achieve a sense of completion.  The initial stages of the hierarchy concerns basic needs (food, water, and breathing) that we take for granted, until they are not met. As this hierarchy progresses to completion, the needs become more complex, and the need to satisfy them more profound. There is also an idea that that person may take one level for granted –such as the need for friendship, and the need to be loved– and they may regress back a level. The basic structure of the Hierarchy of Needs suggests, however, that one cannot progress to next level, until the needs of the prior level are satisfied. Every person is different, of course, but the basic tenets are such that most people are not immune to the needs of a level you are currently on, and our stubborn refusal to accept the idea that we need more of whatever you currently have, has us stuck at that level.

Orwell’s addendum to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pertains to writers. His quote basically states that while writers are not immune to the need to progress in all the ways Maslow outlined, and that their progress is elemental to better writing, it’s just as vital to the quality of the writing that they be able to tap into the angst that drove them to want to be a writer while mired in a previous stage.

The best, most stark example, may be the starving artist that wrote something while mired in a premature stage. The piece they wrote may have been beautiful on one level, but it was generally regarded as being on the cusp of brilliance. The beauty of their piece may have been contained its raw exploration of their vulnerabilities, but it was also considered a snapshot of what this artist might be capable of ultimately, as it offered no solutions. Their piece was more of a list of complaints with no end in sight, a characteristic that can be compelling in its own right.

As we’ve witnessed, in all crafts, some starving artists never reach their full potential. Some of them become trapped in the starving artist mindset, or elementary stage of need, and they never gain a complete enough understanding of themselves, and thus mankind, to achieve a greater, or more complete artistic piece. Or, they may have progressed through the channels of their needs so completely that they’ve lost their need to create artistic pieces. It’s also been the case that a starving artist’s original piece was so successful that the person became successful and lost the starving artist mindset that gave them fame, and every piece they write thereafter is retread. This lack of artistic progression may be as simple as the artist never progressing to the self-actualized stage.

The website Simple Psychology states that “Maslow estimated that only two percent of people will reach the state of self-actualization.”

Is Maslow wrong, or are we? Are we a member of the ninety-eight percent, and does this affect our writing in such a manner that we don’t have the objectivity necessary to write a compelling fictional character, much less conduct our lives in a self-actualized manner?

As one that has progressed through a stage fairly recently, I can tell you that that progression served my writing well. I would not say that I’m a member of the two percent, but I have progressed, and I didn’t wake one day with the realization that I had progressed either. It was only upon reflection that I realized that only after one of my fundamental needs was met did my writing progress. I look back on my “immature stage” and I realized how much better my writing has become. I realized that my inability to complete a piece was more of a commentary on my inability to progress through my personal hierarchy of needs than it was my artistic abilities. I’ve also managed to keep in touch with all of the angst that drove some of my earlier works to bring them to completion in a manner I may not have if I hadn’t progressed.

How to Succeed in Writing X: Blog Writing


Rule#1: If you have any respect for comedy, you should avoid trying to be funny. Comedy should almost be an accidental afterthought. It should be what happens in the course of numerous rewrites. A good one-liner is hard to find, and it usually falls in the lap of the unsuspecting. It’s rarely among those first thoughts that occur in a first draft. Those one-liners are often born and bred into you. It’s often what those who know your sense of humor find hilarious. It’s usually based on what you do for a living, and all of experiences you’ve had in life. Some of us may see where you’re headed, but most of us do not … not to the point of finding humor in it. Those jokes that you write that are more universally hilarious are probably either directly, or indirectly, ripped off from some other, more universally accepted vehicle. The path to the more honest, organic place of comedy is often found within a serious piece that takes twists and turns before that piece can be declared complete. It can also be found in bits that you add after rereading your completed, serious piece so often that the words bore you. It is also usually found the day after, the week after, the month after you’ve achieved the degree of objectivity necessary to land an honest and pure line that is funny in a more universal manner.

We all think we’re funny, but even the best of the best stand-up comedians will tell you that they rarely get it right in their first draft. They test their material before live audiences, and they shape, craft, and hone it based on the audience’s reactions. A writer usually does not have the luxury of a live audience, so they must trust their instincts, and as any experienced stand-up comedian will tell your instincts are almost always wrong. As a result, you need an audience, and if you’re unable to find one, the only substitute you have is an objective perspective that can only be gained through the amount of rewrites it takes to achieve it.

femisphere_mommy-bloggers1

Rule#2: If there any writers reading this blog in search of one useful nugget, let it be this: We don’t care about you, and we’re not interested in what you think. Your modus operandi (M.O.) from this point forward should be to manipulate your reader into believing that they’ve arrived at your opinions independently.

Uninteresting way: “I like fruit better than candy. Who doesn’t? You put a strawberry Twizzler in front of me, and a beautiful piece of nature’s own, and I’ll take the piece of fruit every time. It’s healthier, it’s succulent, and I would much rather support the strawberry growers association than some huge monolithic, candy corporation that doesn’t give a fig about my health.”

Interesting way: “Thanks to the innovations made in chemical enhancement, and the machinery on the production line adding a precise quantity of these chemicals to every licorice strip, every single Twizzler you eat is going to be perfect. Twizzlers, therefore, have the advantage of consistency, but what does this type of consistency achieve for the consumer? Is a twenty-seventh Twizzler licorice strip going to taste any better than the first one you eat? A strawberry, on the other hand, has a certain inconsistency inherent in Mother Nature, and that inconsistency may lead to a greater belief in the quality of its gems, through scarcity, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can eat a perfect strawberry without thinking it’s better than anything man has attempted to reproduce in a lab.”

Both of these versions contain variations of an opinion, of course, but one is so over-the-top that it does it little more than tell us what the writer thinks. The attempts to persuade are so loaded with an agenda that some readers may rebel, and those that agree will only have their biases confirmed. No reader will leave the piece believing that they have learned something new, or that the writer has used some ingenuity to express a point. By limiting the piece to what the writer thinks, they are telling us that don’t care what we think. The import some readers will have is that the writer is a wonderful person, and they’ve finally found a vehicle for spreading the word.

Rule#3: We are not interested in your process. “You may be wondering how I came about this brilliant blog … ”  We’re not. “A friend of mine asked what I thought about some take a famous person had on an extremely controversial topic, and I said this, and she said that, and this ingenious blog is my response to that.” Some people are curious about the creative process, I’ve seen them ask about it in various replies. Most aren’t. If you become famous, or you create a piece that generates a lot of interest, there may be some call for the minutiae regarding your process, until then try incorporating the delete button into your process a little more. It may help you get to the point a little quicker.

Rule#4: Try to be succinct. Though I’m sure that some may find it hilarious for me to tell anyone to be succinct, my M.O. is to express my thoughts as succinctly as possible. I do have trouble limiting the number of words in my pieces, and that may be my failing, but I do make that attempt. Venture out into the blogosphere and you’ll find numerous bloggers that do the opposite. They stretch a point out to the 1,500 word, universally agreed upon length of substantial pieces.

These blogs, make me think of that scene where a TV director signals the news anchor to stretch a segment out, with banter, to fill time until the next commercial break. Sports radio appears to have been founded on this concept. These venues attract people that can blather in such a seamless manner that the audience doesn’t even know they’re being blathered. One of the keys to being considered talented enough to fulfill such duties appears to involve being able to say the same thing over and over with varying inflections to keep the key demo watching through the twenty minutes of commercial breaks that occur in any given hour. Me thinks that some bloggers get caught up in this definition of talent, and they attempt to duplicate it with banter and blathering.

Rule#5: Be provocative. Some may read that word and believe that it is specifically devoted to shocking the reader into questioning their moral fiber, but I prefer to focus of the base of the word provoke. Provoke your reader into thought by leading them down a road that they may have never been down before. There’s two schools of thought on this. One is to come up with breathtakingly original material that no one has ever considered before, but this one is difficult if not impossible to do on a continual basis. The more opportune avenue is to take a relatively common idea and put a spin on it that few have considered before.

The most common avenue for achieving this is to take an event from one’s own life and attempt to provide a unique spin on it. If you are going to include your personal opinions of these events, you should do so within the context of the narrative. The best role I’ve found for the ‘I’ character in these pieces is that of the straight man looking out on the madness that surrounds. Your thoughts, if you feel the need to include them, should occur soon after the reader has arrived at that opinion. At that point, you can decorate with jokes of obviousness, or extreme analogies that exaggerate the already arrived at opinion. The latter should not be done from the new age, clever “I’m so dumb it’s entertaining” perspective that so many bloggers now obsess over.

We’ve all read those “A Day in the Life” blogs that are specifically not provocative, go nowhere, and contain nothing funny or substantial. Judging by the hundreds of replies that say nothing entertaining in return, they’re quite popular. I’ve often wondered why people read these blogs, but they have apparently tapped into some sort of universal appeal that I cannot. The basis for these otherwise mundane blogs is to set a base from which the author can make leaps into humor or ingenuity, but the reader has to click on the blog first, and they do, and the whole cycle proves that I may be so dumb that it’s entertaining, because I don’t understand why anyone would purposely click on the 101 things my cat did when they heard the can opener blogs.

Free Your Mind and Creativity Will Follow


“You just sit there young man, and think about what you’ve done!” is something that most of us have heard at one point or another.  We’ve heard this from a mother, a grandmother, or some authority figure in our lives.  Sitting in silence is an excellent punishment for a young mind that wants to move, explore, and participate, and the negative connotations we apply to such forced inactivity, may be the reason that some of us still avoid it as often as we can.  For some minds, however, it may be the key to tapping into untapped resources of creativity.

Ardent advocates of noise would disagree.  They would suggest that the best way to find that creative place occurs in the exchange of ideas.  The distracted mind, they would say, requires forced participation.  They also say that suggesting these minds need more space, and more silence, may allow the cracks of distraction to grow wider.

moronThe very idea that silence should play a role in the creative process seems antithetical to everything we’ve been taught. We, as a people, have spent so much time trying to create technological advances that put an end to silence that we’re now conditioned to believe that cluttering our minds with voices and images may lead us to finding individual, creative thought in that stew.  Some do, of course, as every brain works different.  Those that require more processing of information –conditioned to the same beliefs about the creative process– may buy a self-help guide to find out what’s wrong with them.  For them, the source of creative thinking can, more often than not, be found in the brain itself … If it is allowed to breathe a little.

As Dorothy Gauvin stated:

“Your mind makes connections between facts and experiences that may seem unrelated to a logical entity like a robot.  Imagination connects the dots and comes up with an ‘Aha moment’ we call inspiration.”

These technological distractions that we have, and all of the noise of the day, prevents our imagination from taking what we’ve learned to that place where all the dots can be connected to produce a creative thought, or what Ms. Gauvin calls ‘an Aha moment’.

“Remember the famous quote from A.A.Milne,” she writes, ‘Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sits.’”

Some of us spent most of our time outside of the Socratic Method of teaching looking in.  We’ve witnessed other brains firing right along with the teacher’s.  The teacher hits them with a question, they fire right back; the teacher probes deeper, the students respond in kind, and a summary discussion ensues in which all participants are rewarded with like-minded smiles when they’ve reached the same conclusion.  Some of us have always wanted to be those people, and we have been … the next day.  The next day, we arrived in that class with an answer that would’ve knock our teacher right on her keister … If we had thought of it yesterday.  We wanted a do over.  We wanted to show the class that we had the perfect answer.  It was too late for us, of course, the class moved on.

Every mind works different.  Some minds are excellent for business, and school, and they can come up with the perfect solution on the spot.  With that perfect guide, they can delve deeper into the depths of the mathematical mind than either party imagined possible, or they do it so quick that some of us stare on dumbfounded.

The spoils for thinking often go to the quick, and that fact has led some of us to believe that we were the dumb.  Our “Aha moments” do arrive, but they arrived when we were walking down the stairs, after the meat of the discussion has long since passed, and we thought of all the things we could’ve and should’ve said. Our minds work different, and even if we realized this in school, we may not have been rewarded in the manner the quicker minds were, but it may have been less frustrating or embarrassing to realize that our brains work different.

If you have a “down the stairs, could’ve, should’ve said” brain, Ms. Gauvin writes, you may want to consider the idea of developing a routine that involves a moment, or a series of moments, where all you do is sit in silence to digest what you’ve experienced.  She writes that some meditate, some contemplate, and some “just sits” there in a manner that “suits their circumstances and personality”.  She says that once you figure out how your brain works, you should consider creating a regular period in which you experience silence in the manner high profile “professionals in Medicine, Sports, and the Arts” all do.

Feathers

“Free your mind, the rest will follow.” —En Vogue

Years after reading the brilliant, Raymond Carver short story Feathers,  I reread it.  I was confused.  I went back to the title of that story to make sure it was the same short story I read all those years ago and recommended to everyone I knew that expressed even a slight interest in fiction.  It was the same short story, of course, and it was just as good as I remembered, but I had so jumbled the details of that story that I misremembered it into an original short story.

Carver’s short story was so great that I experienced a creative high after reading it.  As an aspiring, young writer, I have to imagine that reading that story was equivalent to a young basketball player watching Michael Jordan drive the baseline against the Knicks in the 1993 playoffs.  Carver, like Jordan, made it look so easy that I thought I could do it.

The focus of Carver’s story was, of course, the main characters, but my focus churned on the side characters.  I identified with them in some manner I couldn’t grasp at first.  I decided to explore.  I decided that this exploration was worthy of a short story, my short story.

Upon rereading Feathers years later, I realized that the side characters were so far removed from the ones that I had created that no lawyer in the land could prove an infringement on, or plagiarism of, Carver’s material.  After getting over that initial spate of confusion, and some feelings of being so stupid as to misremeber those characters, I realized that I had come up with my first original “quality” short story.  And all of those leaps occurred in quiet moments where all I did was ‘sit and think’ about them and the short story, and my relation to them.

The Sounds of Silence

Silence can be difficult to find at times.  We spend so much of our time trying to keep our minds active, focused, and participatory that we’ve cluttered it with noise, under the proviso that “No TV and no beer make Homer crazy”, until we’ve reached a point where our lives are drained of silence.

If you’re one that needs a creative space of silence, and you’re able to find time for it, it’s important to note that there is no specific quantity of silence from which creativity is born.  Laying out such a provocative idea may lead some to say that it doesn’t work for them.  “I tried it,” they will say. “It ain’t for me.”  Our natural retort will be, “Well, how long did you try it?  How much effort did you put into it?”  It’s a pointless –square peg in a round role– discussion for some, of course, because all minds are different.  For those creative minds that don’t know how their brains work yet, and the others that have to deal with them, this may be an eye-opener.  For those that experience writer’s block, or creative fatigue, silence may be the one method they haven’t tried yet.

interactionYour silence should be drained of distractions.  We all have minor distractions that pervade our silence, such as what sassy Susie said to us the other day; the delicious burger that we’re planning to eat tonight; reliving the Blackhawks championship run; and how the stand-up comedian described going to the bathroom in the toilet tank as going top shelf, and we all have an almost unnatural propensity to dwell on those ideas.  To void your mind of such distractions, I like to think of the process the Tom Cruise character went through in the movie Minority Report, when interacting with the futuristic gestural interface to find the information he wanted in its database.

Not all silence should be active, or focused, but it does require a certain degree of participation to find the undiluted creative area.  Focusing yourself into specifics is difficult, of course, but if you can swipe these distractions away, you can achieve various specific, creative thoughts on the subjects of your own choosing.  The key to creative thought, in my opinion, is to create an eighth day in which you, the god of your creation, can rest with everything that hit you in the previous seven days.  The key is to avoid putting headphones on when you jog, mow, or workout at the gym.  Some may go so far as to “just sits” in a quiet room, others may take long drives alone to nowhere with the radio in the off position.

I found the perfect vehicle for freeing my mind, a while back, when I got myself the most brainless job imaginable.  I didn’t do that for this purpose, of course.  When I was forced, by management, to do away with all distractions for the ostensible purpose of placing all of my focus on a job that I could’ve accomplished in early R.E.M. stages, I achieved a state of blankness.  Not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have found such a tedious job, I understand, and for those of you forced to focus on a demanding job will need to find another avenue, but many have found silent moments to stew.

This blaring horn of creative silence can also be found in the most innocuous places like a doctor’s waiting room.  My advice: once you reach that point where you’ve waited so long that you’re so bored that the urge to pick up that magazine –you’d never read otherwise–overwhelms you, fight that urge.  Fight that urge and stare out at the dregs of humanity that wait with you.  Look at that guy with tousled hair and frayed jeans, in a short-sleeved shirt, and wonder why no one ever taught him how to dress.  When you’re engaged in the monotony of lawn work, fight the urge to wear headphones, and pick those dandelions naked … without aural accompaniment, or stimuli of any kind.  Free the mind from everything that you’ve been jamming into it for the previous seven days, and “just sits there” on an eighth day of rest, and the rest will follow.