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Accept you are weird. Oblique strategies

Discussion in 'Writing Resources' started by David Williams, Apr 29, 2021.

  1. David Williams

    David Williams Dreamer

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    Hello, I´d like to share a resource that was useful for me in my music productions days, but has universal artistic and creative value.

    There exists a set of cards called “oblique strategies” that were created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt back in the 70’s to promote creativity and lateral thinking for artists and producers. The wiki page explains the concept very concisely if you’re unfamiliar with it: Oblique Strategies - Wikipedia

    You can still buy them or there are websites with random card generators. I was the proud owner of a set (a neat little thing to have) and the basic idea is this: when you find yourself in a creative rut, pick a card – any card – mull over its meaning and it helps you get out of the rut. Sounds too simple? Wait.

    The genius starts like this; it doesn´t matter what the card says. The important step has already been taken. In recognizing that you are in trouble, you are already in the process of solving your problem. The cards are then mere prompts.

    The genius continues like this; there are cards whose phrases will stick with you forever, because of the way they make you reflect on your personal creative process. Allow me to explain.

    I am a natural worrier, self-doubter, second-guesser. I get carried away fixing all my little errors to the detriment of the bigger picture. The card I remember most is “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” and I have taken and given this advice throughout my entire adult life. With the help of this maxim I learned to put less stock on the small stuff. Better still, by owning and exploring my goofs I have learned about my weird self. To frame it for writing; say you have written a cliché character and you didn´t mean to. Have you considered making it super-cliché? What if you make it so cliché that it becomes genre-busting, looping full circle to become, ironically, original?

    Even if you only take a few moments for the thought experiment, it’s a positive thing to do. It is said that you – as a creative – have a duty to plumb your inner depths and if you accidentally pop out a Mills & Boon character, then you need to recognize there is a little Mills & Boon in you. Then you can find a way to live with that fact.

    Other cards that stick out for me have been:
    - “Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate”
    - “How would you have done it?”
    - “Go outside, shut the door”

    Did any of those speak your inner voice? The deck has over 100 cards, and chances are there is a phrase or particular combination of words that your brain has been waiting for. You can flick through random cards here: Oblique Strategies

    I hope this advice will be useful for some of you.

    For bonus imaginary internet fun points; If you reply to this thread with “GUESS” then an oblique strategy, I´ll try to guess if you made it up or if it’s from the deck!
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    GUESS
    Sit next to a broken motorcycle
     
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  3. David Williams

    David Williams Dreamer

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    I´d guess this is original skip.knox material? I like it very much. Here are my musings on your 10 syllables:

    1. As a challenging constraint from a writer's point of view, I am invited to visualize the "mechanics" of my literary problem. Before snapping off body panels and getting oily with the machine, I first need to reflect on what clues the bike has given me - is it smoking? it it rattling? will it not start? by reflecting on the symptoms I may garner some info on what the underlying problem is. When the problem is known, can I fix it? Should I fix it? See next point:

    2. As a philosophical meditation (and appropriately so for around the time the cards came out, so did Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance): that is, do I want to give the bike to a mechanic for every niggle and just enjoy the thing? or do I want to take a hands-on approach to dealing with every bit of maintenance myself? Romance v Rationality & finding the middle ground where you are most happy.

    3. As a writing prompt, I ask who is the person sat next to the bike, what is their relationship with the bike, and why is it relevant that it is broken. Some ideas I had fun with while walking the dog this morning:
    - Alicia sits up, her pink racing leathers in tatters. She is looking at her pride & joy, smashed up and smoking beside her, wondering what the hell just happened.
    - Tony assesses the damage. Yet another of his fleet riders knocked off in the city delivering pizza. Perhaps he should change the decals to bright yellow, but that will cost money. Doesn´t matter about the boy, illegal immigrants are a dime a dozen.
    - Susan weeps. If her son's bike had been working then perhaps he would not have been on the train that crashed.
    - Harry is 16 and this is his first bike. A second-hand banger, but he saved up for it, knows what's wrong and tomorrow he's going to fix it with help fom his older brother. And when it's fixed, he can go wherever he wants.
    - Javinder is on the threshold of murder. He can walk away now and in the morning the bike will malfunction as he has designed it to, killing his wife. He sits next to the bike, waiting to see if his conscience can get the better of his anger.

    4. As metaphor. Motorbikes represent freedom, the ideal of limitless horizon, endless possibilities. To be sat is to be passive, helpless. At least in the west we are living under the illusion of democracy, no? How come it's one rule for the elites and another rule for the rest of us? How powerless we are at the accident of the circumstances of our birth. And yet, no matter how broken it may be, it is still a beautiful thing, and with such potential.

    5. There is also a certain joy that the bike is broken, if it means it has been used. There's not much sadder than pristine vintage bikes in a museum. They come alive because of the passion projected onto them by their riders. They are ridiculous, dangerous and expensive, so people get bikes in the full knowledge that cars are safer, more reliable, more comfortable - but it doesn´t matter because they buy into the romance of the thing. Easy Rider, Hells Angels, Valentino Rossi, Steve McQueen. All feed into the modern symbolism of an otherwise dead piece of cold metal and plastic bits.

    Lastly, in case of doubts - No I do not own a bike. Yes I used to ride. No I never will again. Thanks for reading!
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Not original, but deliberately obscure. Comes from a crucial scene from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. He's stumped on fixing his bike and discovers the technique of *not* thinking about the problem. It was the first thing that came to mind when I read your original post.

    I have to say your response was interesting and arresting. My brain doesn't work that way--writing prompts are largely wasted on me. But good on ya!
     
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  5. David Williams

    David Williams Dreamer

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    Thank you for the kind comment! I did suspect the Zen, but I read it some 20+ years ago and I didn´t want to cheat the "guess" game by looking it up.
     
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