Tangents Part One

This is the way my mind works and it can make it hard to write something coherently.
Hierarchical outlining does not always work because you still have to place things in order (in a tree structure for example).
Index cards simply leave too many options. This is not a jigsaw puzzle kind of thing. With the jigsaw puzzle, you can always refer to the finished picture on the box. With your own mess of cards, you still have no idea how it’s supposed to look when it’s done.
To harness all my tangents, I might use something like a mind-mapper. Then I could connect the dots. It’s a real scattergun way to write.

Imagine having a box of treasured items that you picked up while making a leaf collection. Along the way, through the trees (doing the real assignment) you pick up a snail shell, a piece of an old green toy, a heart -shaped stone, a playing card. These seem like found art or messages left by the muse. Or a terma left by an enlightened being. At the very least, they are happy accidents. At most, they are signs. And you know you should look for the signs.

You get your required leaves, but you also have this grab bag collection of things that you have attributed meaning to. Now you can’t dispose of them. Aside from having gathered them in a particular/defined area of land, they seems to have some connection to each other. Their relationships make me

Imagine a narrative. Not just clues to be used as a contrivance in a mystery story, these objects now have many possible lives of their own. Each has a history, and a history with each other.
How did they get there? Who was the kid who just had to have that green toy and his mother couldn’t afford it?
Was that playing card someone’s fortune? Was the heart-shaped stone formed here far below the surface, or lost or thrown away by a girl whose young suitor scanned the lakeshore miles away for it for two days?
Put each of these items into a mind-map, each one representing a character with a story, a history, a time-line, a beginning and an end.


I can remember how I got turned on to the subject of notation, in 1973, when my sociology professor handed me a book called “Notations” by John Cage.
Inside were scores (literally) of pages illustrating how composers put down their musical ideas onto paper. You mean there was more than one way? More than filling in that daunting sheet of lines and spaces with little black blobs of notes. It was shocking and liberating.

Here, in this book, I was seeing the antithesis to everything I’d learned in music classes. Almost every page displays unconventional ways of getting ideas out of your head and into the external world. Here’s an example of George Cacioppo’s score for his work “Cassiopeia”.

From the top, Miss Smith! Now, doesn’t that look a little more like a mind-map than your conventional 5-line music sheet?

There are some 250 more examples in Cage’s book. Very heady stuff for an 18 year old. And it was a liberating experience in that I now had evidence that there were hundreds of minds out there that thought differently and had found a way to express themselves. Now, I’m upping that to millions.
The book was an answer to the hackneyed question “What were they thinking?!?”. Well, THIS is what they were thinking – and this is how they were writing it down.

When I applied this to my own writing, I felt a lot of kinship with these composers. I often got stuck trying to do a story straight through from “once upon a time” to “the end”. I had all the components – premise, characters, locations, even plot – but getting it all together so someone could follow it, that was the problem. I started looking around to see how others did it. And this will be subject for further posts.