I thought I'd share my plan from yesterday's Drop-In Writing Workshop.
If you weren't able to make it to The Cabin last night (or don't live in Boise) and wanted to be there, you can get a sense of what what we did. If you write on this now, or wrote something at the Drop-In and like it, feel free to share in the comments. I may do the same.
Drop-In Writing Workshop: Collecting the Dots
Collecting material from our surroundings, observations and memory, and turning that into a new piece.
Introduction: looking at three steps of the creative process
We'll be looking at Amanda Palmer's definition of the creative process: collecting dots, connecting dots to make new discoveries and sharing those discoveries, and following that process over several small steps to create something new.
From The Art of Asking
By Amanda Palmer
You may have a memory of when you first, as a child, started connecting the dots of the world. Perhaps outside on a cold spring-day school field trip, mud on your shoes, mentally straying from the given tasks at hand, as you began to find patterns and connections where you didn’t notice them before. You may remember being excited by your discoveries, and maybe you held them up proudly to other kids, saying:
did you ever notice that this looks like this?
the shapes on this leaf look like the cracks in this puddle of ice
which look like the veins on the back of my hand
which look like the hairs stuck to the back of her sweater…
Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.
All artists work in different mediums, but they also differ when it comes to those three departments. Some artists love the act of collecting. We might call this experiencing, or emotionally and intellectually processing the world around us: the ingredients—the puddles of ice, the sweater—that go into the poetic metaphor. Or the wider and longer-term collection: the time it takes to fall in and out of love, so that you can describe it in song, or the time it takes a painter to gaze at a landscape before deciding to capture it on canvas. Or the nearly three years Thoreau needed to live simply on the side of a pond, watching sunrises and sunsets through the seasons, before he could give Walden to the world.
Some artists devote more time to connecting the dots they’ve already collected: think of a sculptor who hammers away for a year on a single statue, a novelist who works five years to perfect a story, or a musician who spends a decade composing a single symphony—connecting the dots to attain the perfect piece of art. Thoreau himself needed another three years after his time in the cabin to distill and connect his experiences into the most beautiful and direct writing possible.
Like most stage performers, I’ve always been the most passionate about the final phase: the sharing. There are lots of ways to share. Writers share when someone else reads or listens to their words in a book, a blog, a tweet. Painters share by hanging their work, or by sliding the sketchbook to a friend across the coffee-shop table. Stage performers also collect and connect (in the form of experiencing, writing, creating, and rehearsing), but there is a different kind of joy in that moment of human-to-human transmission: from you to the eyes and ears of an audience, whether fireside at a party or on a stage in front of thousands. I’m a sharing addict.
Notice how Amanda Palmer defines three primary aspects of the creative process: collecting dots, connecting the dots and sharing the dots. What do you make of this definition? Do you think of yourself as more of a collector, connector, sharer, or all three? What are ways we collect dots/material?
Collecting Dots - invitation to open up to the room
I’m going to ask you to follow your sensory interests and explore the room. Imagine this is a newly opened art exhibit, created by a master artist. Everything in the room is part of the exhibit. It’s perfect. Look at it, observe with all senses. Explore, notice. Collect dots in your mind/body. 10 minutes.
Collecting Writing Notes
Starting from what you just explored, write down everything you’ve observed today, in the last 24 hours. The people, places, experiences. Not so much what you did, but what you noticed, what caught your attention. Be specific. Go into details. 10 minutes.
Memory Observation - open up to the interior space
Close eyes, observe insides, let a memory surface. From today, years ago, the biggest event in your life. See yourself there, be there, hear and smell and taste the surroundings. 5 minutes.
Collecting Writing Notes
Write down what you observed, what you experienced, in this memory. Try to get it down as though you’re seeing yourself from the outside.
Everything you’ve explored, remembered and written so far? These are your dots. The material you’ve gathered. 10 minutes.
What’s come up for you so far? Any surprising observations? Anything catch you off-guard? From what you started to write, observe and remember, what interests you?
Connecting the Dots
How do these things relate? Do any of them? Try them out. Puzzle-pieces.
Spend some time with your material. Underline a few of these dots (lines) that stand out.
Lines that interest you. Jot them down on a new page.
Consider how these lines speak to each other, how they’re in conversation.
Walk around the room, make little notes, doodle little images, start bridging your ideas. 5min
Building the Thing
Return to your dots, your gathered material.
How do they relate?
If none of these observations relate easily, what could help them do so? Add that in.
When you look at this, what shape do they create? Are they a poem, a story? A memoir?
Sew this material together. Add heat. You can make it fiction, make it ridiculous.
You can rebuild a memory. Rebuild a future.
What surprises you as you work on this? What interests you? 15 minutes.
Share (can share the connected material, the original collections, or an observation)
I think that cultivating and developing what interests you as an artist is something we don’t talk about enough or spend enough time on. Try opening up this idea in your regular arts practice – finding and following your interest as it changes, seeing what you collect in your life, observations and experiences as material.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: