Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Because It's There...

These are the famously quoted words of George Mallory when asked, "Why climb Mount Everest?"  Personally, I have absolutely no intentions of trying to summit Mount Everest like Tenzing Norgay did.  (He's the one shown here in the picture taken by his partner Sir Edmund Hillary).  But I can appreciate a challenge for its sake alone.

I might not be quite so adventurous, but I still tend to seek out greater and greater challenges.  As such, it wasn't enough once I had mastered the Rubik's Cube; it was time to move on to other puzzles.  What about the twelve-sided Megaminx?  Would a puzzle with twice the number of faces as the Rubik's Cube be twice as difficult?

Rather than square sides, the Megaminx has twelve different colored pentagons to be solved.  Still, there are some similarities.  Both puzzles have centers on each face that cannot switch positions; they can only rotate about their fixes axes.  Could I apply what I had already learned about the Rubik's Cube?  Was there anything else I might learn in the process?

I eventually figured out a solution to the Megaminx that worked for me.  In the process, I discovered a new and intuitive lesson that I had not fully understood with the Rubik's Cube.  If I had not challenged myself, I would not have gained the true understanding I now have for the Rubik's Cube.

It's fun to take this approach with writing too.  One of my favorite exercises is the "Challenge Prompt".  This is the one where you are given a list of obscure items, characters, or situations and you must incorporate them all.  For example, write a story or scene in the next 10 minutes that incorporates the following:
  1. Bikini top
  2. Antarctica
  3. Typewriter
It is quite satisfying when you reread what you wrote and were able to weave together images, characters, and ideas that you thought should not belong together.

Occasionally, I will take myself even further out of my comfort zone.  I transform into a contrarian and write from an opposite or unexpected place.  I will imagine a character who may have political or other beliefs that are totally opposed to mine, and then try to create a likeable, sympathetic character.

Variety itself can be a fun challenge:
  • Switch from past tense to present tense
  • Try to write from the omniscient third person point of view (POV) instead of first person POV
  • Write dialogue with no speaker attributions
  • Try a different style or genre.  If you normally write romance, instead try horror
Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon, a medieval fantasy, was a departure from his other horror novels up to that point in his career.  And I'm sure that he learned some things about his "normal" writing as a result.

If you challenge yourself "because it's there", it can lead you to discoveries in your writing that you might not have found otherwise.  Try it.  Challenge yourself.  See if it helps you to find new insights into your "normal" writing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Unpack Your Boxes Already!

For far too long they remained packed together in moving boxes that traveled with me from apartment to apartment and house to house.  Enigmas that were to remain untouched and cherished from afar.  Would I ever be able to unravel their mysterious ways?  Maybe someday.

I'm talking about my Rubik's Cube and my fiction.  In the box, my "manuscripts" sat amongst several Stephen King books and my cube.  The cube was already solved, but only because I had cheated and popped it apart with a screwdriver.  However, I had no screwdriver to pop apart King's stories.  I didn't have the tools to cheat at writing.

Without any shortcuts or cheat sheets, my writing remained untouched in the box as if it were paralyzed by the greatness of its box mates:  the Cube and the King.

After one too many failed New Year's Resolutions, I finally unpacked the box.  If a three year old can solve the Rubik's cube and a four year old can publish a novel, then maybe I can figure out a way to do this too.  Maybe it was a Nike ad I had seen that made my subconscious whisper, "Just Do It".  I don't know, but I was inspired.

I'm not saying that self doubt disappeared and made me ready to accomplish anything.  But I was somehow freer knowing that I didn't have to be the first or the best.  It was too late for that anyway.  However, that was the day I would start to mark milestones in my own life.  Dreams don't simply burst out of the box of potential and automatically make us successful and admired.  No, I had to get on with the "doing" myself.

It was okay that I would never get to every possible twist and turn of the cube.  It was okay that I would never become a master like the King.  It didn't matter.  The cob webs were wiped away because I had unpacked the box.