The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics




Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #5: Consult the Cards

I read Tarot cards--which is a story for another day--and love the fantastic ambient work of Brian Eno, whose Music for Airports and Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks are frequent writing soundtracks. So I was surprised to learn a couple of weeks ago--and shocked I didn't already know it--that Eno has a deck of cards, created with Peter Schmidt, called Oblique Strategies: One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas geared toward breaking creative gridlock, each card containing a brief, sometimes cryptic "strategy" for solving a problem.

While a few specifically address music composition, the majority have to do with the creative process as a whole, applicable to any art (and maybe toward any problem, but let's not play the stock market with them). The goal of the cards isn't to tell you what to do--they're not going to tell you, "Add 20% more tension to your character in scene two, Mr. Bates," though it'd be spooky if they did--but to provide enough guidance to see the problem from a new perspective, while allowing enough leeway for you to come to a solution yourself.

A few examples of the wisdom, motivation, and sometimes-peculiar koans you'll find:

Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)

Idiot glee (?)

Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate

What mistakes did you make last time?

Not all will be helpful, or even immediately understandable, but the cards function like having someone there to trade ideas with...and occasionally they feel like a portable mountaintop guru staring straight into your soul, if you're into that sort of thing.

You can use them however you want: flip one card and stick with it, considering what relation it has to the problem you're facing, or, if it doesn't grab you, you might keep flipping until you hit the bit of advice that does seem to resonate. There aren't any rules; you aren't being graded on this. However you use them--so long as they help you get past the block--is the right way.

By the way, you don't even need to track down a physical deck to use them: there are a few sites out there with electronic versions you can click through, such as the Random Strategies site and Random Oblique Strategies Online.

Bookmark, return as needed, click, work.

PS--The whole thing reminds me, now that I think on it, of Raymond Carver's famous three-by-five cards that he talks about in his wonderful essay "Principles of a Story" (also published as "On Writing"). He kept a series of cards around--taped up--with lines from writers that struck him, made him think in a new way, or reminded him of something important he needed to keep in mind. It occurs to me one could make his or her own set of cards in the same way, with quotes from favorite writers, and then could just shuffle and draw when in need of inspiration...a project for another time, maybe.

1 comment:

  1. Those cards are very different from the usual tarot deck. And you're right, the words won't be the exact solution as to what you should do :)