The Writer's Den

UCLA's creative writing student group

Whack Yourself in the Head: A Fun Creative Exercise

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Having trouble coming up with a new story?  Find yourself fumbling around with ideas but unable to settle on one?  Do you think you’re just not creative enough?  Well listen up fellow denmates, cuz this one’s for you.

So I read this totally, amazingly, fabulous book last year called, A Whack on the Side of the Head:  How You Can Be More Creative, by Roger Von Oech, a consultant who has worked with major companies like IBM, Apple, Disney, Sony, and Intel to help make them more creative.

For the most part, the book goes through a list of 10 mental blocks that prevent you from being creative and gives advice and specific exercises that will help you eliminate these restrictive mentalities from your life.  Some examples of these mental blocks are “There is only one right answer,”  “Logical thinking is the only good thinking,” and “Play is frivolous.”

One of my favorite exercises in this book called, “Create your own oracle,” forces you to play around with different ideas and think outside the box, and most importantly, it can be directly applied to creative writing!

Here’s how it works:

1)    Ask a question (like, “What should my new story be about?”)

2)    Generate a random piece of information: there are an unlimited number of ways you can do this.  You can circle a bunch of random paragraphs in your favorite magazine, you can look out the window and focus on the second round thing you see, you can turn on your tv and flip to a random channel, or you can spin around 5 times and point at something.

3)    Interpret this new information as your oracle, the answer to your question.

Eg.   “Ahh, my new story is going to have something to do with the spare tire on the back of my dad’s truck. “

4)    Lastly, and most importantly: if there is no connection in sight, if you just can’t see how falling stock prices, a cloud, your car keys, or a picture of Kim Kardashian’s new boyfriend will help you come up with a new story idea, DO NOT GIVE UP; Be ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that everything is connected in some way and that this information is somehow the answer to your question.  Pretend that this information was divinely presented to you to give you an idea for the greatest story ever!

What does this exercise look like in action?  Well, I happened to be sitting at Starbucks today and I noticed a set of shelves with packaged items for sale.  I started with a question “What will my new story be about?”  Before I walked up to the shelves, I told myself, “Ok, the answer to my question, my oracle, will be on the third shelf down all the way to the right.”   So I walked up to the set of shelves, went three shelves down and focused on the bag of coffee all the way on the right.  It said, “Medium Pike Place Roast, Smooth and Balanced. “

Great, I have my oracle, so how am I going to use this to come up with a new story idea? There are many ways I can go with this:  I might write a story that starts off with a head on a pike in front of a castle, or I can write a story about how a northern pike (a type of fish) gave up its carnivorous ways and became a vegetarian, or I can take a more literal approach and have my story setting be in Pike Place Market, Seattle.  Or, I may not focus on the word, “pike” at all, and instead be inspired by the phrase, “smooth and balanced.”

It’s a fun, easy exercise to do.  Try it out and let me know how it goes!

By the way, here’s the book on amazon if you are interested: http://www.amazon.com/Whack-Side-Head-More-Creative/dp/0446404667

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Author: anthonymeyers

UCLA student, philosophy major

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