Life is circular in nature. The natural world is formed by curves and shapes, clustered together and joined by lines and graceful arches. Like nature, our creative minds are not linear, but filled with image and idea clusters joined by the lines and arches of emotional and sensory associations.
That is why I’ve been been spending a lot of time drawing circles and lines lately. Specifically, I’ve been expelling my inner critic from the room (boy, does she like to look over my shoulder!) and engaging my creative mind using clustering techniques, also known as mind mapping.
You can use clustering for personal growth, or you can use the technique to deepen your understanding of a fictional character (or place). The essence of the entire ten to fifteen-minute technique, as outlined by Gabriele Lusser Rico in her classic, Writing the Natural Way, is this.
- Write a word or phrase in the center of a blank page and circle it. This is your “nucleus.” Letting the playful part of you take over, write whatever association comes to mind when you think of that word or phrase. And let the writing radiate outward from the center.
- Draw a circle around each associated word or phrase that comes to you. Don’t think too long or analyze, just keep letting those associations flow. If you need to, feel free to doodle or draw directional arrows, while allowing your mind to remain in an unfocused state.
- Continue writing associations and ideas triggered by your nucleus for a minute or two.
- At some point, you will feel a strong urge to write. When this happens, take a moment to scan your clustered words. Most often, a sentence, or the beginning of a sentence will come to mind. Write, and keep writing for eight to ten minutes. You don’t have to use all the words or concepts in your cluster.
Below is a cluster I drew from the nucleus word flight, followed by a paragraph of freewriting. Notice how unformed and “messy” the cluster is, how image and association rich the writing. Is it “perfect” or “finished”? No. But it could be the start of a personal essay or piece of a memoir vignette.
Flying brings so many things to mind. How we stand in lines and sit in neat, tight rows, corralled into the tight, tin-can space of an airplane; how, for the sake of getting from here to there as cheaply and quickly as possible, we obey what we’re told, sit down when they say, put up with all manner of indignity. From so high above the earth, I have a view of freedom, a geography of carved out plots, a 3 dimensional map of the earth. Birds soar free. They have the same view but not the same restrictions. Of course not; they have wings. Ours are wings built from sheet metal, screws, and human ingenuity. I can’t decide whether having the ability to fly is more or less freeing for humans, who were not designed to see the world from a bird’s point of view.
Now it’s your turn.
This Week’s Journal Writing Prompts: one random word each day as the nucleus for creative clusters of your own.
Share your experience of the process or a paragraph you wrote during a Creative Clustering session by leaving a comment below.
Enroll Now in Journaling for Memoir Writers 1 to learn powerful journal writing techniques to help identify the important moments of your life; access memories; develop scene, character, and sensory descriptions; and reflect upon the impact and meaning of your life events. Don’t wait! Class Begins March 12th!