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.

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