Getting Random

Or How randomising helps you to cut new turf

David Bowie and WIlliam Burroughs

The thing about being a creative genius is that you always have to find ways to tap into your subconscious barrel of creative thought. It’s easier the more you do it of course, and practise makes, if not perfect, then at least easy. Stirring up new thoughts is always an effort, like lifting a weight, but of course the more weights you raise the more practised a clean and jerk it becomes.

It’s useful to find techniques which help distract you from the process, send your conscious mind off on an errand, while you chat privately to your subconscious. I’ll be mentioning many more techniques for this in later posts, but the ones I’m thinking of at the moment are those which randomise words and link them together to give you new combinations. It’s a variation of the juxtaposition techniques I’ve written about before. You can’t prevent yourself from making associations between two things, no matter how random their choice. From this linking of unlinked items you get creative thought.

The late William Burroughs used a technique called cut-ups to stimulate his mind and even produce books. He used to type a page of words, then cut the page in quarters, sticking them back together in a random order so that it was unpredictable how the sentences would reform themselves. Many years later David Bowie would use a similar technique to write lyrics, although if memory serves he cut up words and picked them out of a hat. (I’m sure some of you will correct me on that.)

I’m reminded of those magnetic poetry toys you can get for making strings of words on the door of your fridge. I find these endlessly fascinating. Bolting words together as a physical act rather than an intellectual one is a fabulous way of diverting your mind from choosing words, and instead you are choosing pieces of a puzzle. You employ a whole different part of the brain.

Another technique I like is the use of software to generate random thoughts. I know there are a lot of people out there selling software which is supposed to stimulate creativity (I’m even working on my own in fact hehe) but there is a wealth of free stuff out there. Look for a program called PYPROSE for your computer. It is made for a number of different platforms, and the one I use is for the Mac. I’m not sure how it works, but the results are not entirely random. They have the feel of intentional sentences, but they are completely meaningless. Like so:

After these are snapping, has the whip of mind planted the evil of afternoon? Have I slid? To hesitate is no worry. Another entrance — what is expense gathering? The matter — when was a liberal gun hoping? We were ruling, and the scale appeared to type. Although to matter demanded to underestimate another conscience, why were the turning worries running? Shall the belly fruit appreciate the food of devotion?

This rather lilac prose style is kind of adorable in an old fashioned way, seems meaningful at first, and then you realise it is creepily vague. But it throws up interesting ideas effortlessly and without prejudice. From the above example “has the whip of mind planted the evil of afternoon” is a phrase loaded with menace and intrigue, and “Shall the belly fruit appreciate the food of devotion” is a mildly erotic poem of love. Try it yourself. I find it a fascinating way to generate tangents, like choosing a path through the forest and not really knowing where it’s leading you.

For more information about cut-up techniques READ HERE

For versions of PYPROSE for Windows and Mac GO HERE and scroll down to the paragraph which starts “Prose and the Virtual Muse”.

Oh and on a related note, be sure to check out my recent guest post on the excellent Nick Daw’s Writing Blog on the subject of Inspiration. I’m very excited to be asked and many thanks to Nick for giving me the opportunity.


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Thanks for reading!


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