Wednesday, February 5, 2020

ANYWHERE—The Place Ideas Live, Part Two by Carol Coven Grannick

It's lovely to be in a physical or emotional place in which ideas float in and take hold. As I wrote in my previous GROG post these new thoughts "turn us suddenly onto a new path..." And all we have to do is receive them and use them. Anywhere we are, our brains can be in Receiving Mode.

But there are times, plenty of times, when ideas do not float in. 

Not a single idea floats, materializes, or even smacks itself into our brains.

Then what do we do? We're stuck.

We walk. We take showers. We brainstorm. We ask, what if...? But not much materializes. We mistakenly call it writer's block.

We do not need something better. We need something different.

A number of years ago, I discovered the work of Edward deBono, who developed techniques for challenging the brain to think creatively. While his framework was business-oriented (Six Thinking Hats), I found the techniques applicable in my private practice as a clinical social worker, in my writing, and in my life. DeBono calls his approach 'Lateral Thinking'.

Lateral thinking, as opposed to 'Vertical Thinking' (a logical step-by-step thinking through of a problem), provokes deliberate challenges of logical ('vertical') assumptions and the usual paths of thought we pursue.

Some of us may be natural lateral thinkers for whom asking, What enough of a nudge in order to create new pathways, patterns, or ideas. Others of us can really benefit from this more deliberate practice. 

While I find deBono's early books complicated to digest, I latched onto his idea of 'Provocation' to signal: 
  • challenging and disrupting established patterns or assumptions.
  • liberating beliefs associated with labeling and classifying.
  • encouraging different ways to 'arrange' information. 
I particularly enjoy the technique of Reversal, a way to negate, turn upside down, and flip backwards, common assumptions.

It's a way to generate all kinds of ideas—nonsensical, funny, matter-of-fact, terrible, and wildly wonderful—that may lead to a completely different way of looking at a situation in which you and your story feel stuck.

I made use of the Reversal technique while writing and revising my upcoming middle grade novel in verse, REENI'S TURN (September, 2020). I'd practiced the technique for so many years that it came naturally. I used it to create a "Provocation" in relation to the absence of obstacles in the middle of my novel in verse.

REENI'S TURN is the story of a shy, self-conscious girl's search for courage and self-acceptance as she journeys to become the girl she wants to be while still being true to the girl she already is. It occurs in the context of the epidemic of diet experimentation among fourth and fifth grade girls (and increasingly, boys).

While I'm not a writer who outlines my work, I did have a couple of assumptions: 
  1. Reeni must find courage to perform a solo. 
  2. Reeni must find a way to accept the body she has. 
While those seemed admirable goals for a middle grade story, I couldn't find the obstacles I needed. So I challenged the assumptions by reversing them: 
  1. Reeni never finds the courage to perform
  2. Reeni never accepts her changing body size and shape.
The reversal challenge leads to this: If the reversals were really true, then what things might happen?

The question popped open my brain.

I generated a whole list of possible internal and external events and experiences, some pure nonsense, some too awful, and some—finally—that felt organic to my character's personality, longings, and vulnerabilities. In fact, allowing my brain to consider the worst possibilities (that Reeni would never accept her changing body—something that horrified me—and never perform), allowed me to develop obstacles that caused her pain. And caused me pain, too.

It's a technique worth a try, and it's meant to complement, not necessarily replace, other "vertical" ways of problem-solving.

Working in tandem with your usual problem-solving methods, slightly simplified 
lateral thinking may increase your creative solutions for writing problems—and may even add a little bit of fun as you turn common assumptions upside down during your journey to find an answer that feels just right.

So there's our brain again, ready to help us generating new and unusual ideas, whether they're floating in ready-made or whether we need to do some more deliberate work. Our brains and their neuroplasticity make ideas from "Anywhere" possible—and grant us what is possibly our greatest gift.

Carol Coven Grannick is an author, poet, and chronicler. Her debut MG novel in verse, REENI’S TURN (Fitzroy Books, September 13, 2020) handles issues of courage, self-awareness, and self-acceptance in the context of preteen body changes and the epidemic of dieting in younger children. Her poetry and fiction has appeared/is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, Hello, and Hunger Mountain. She is a regular columnist for the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind, a reporter for Cynsations, and a member of the GROG Blog.


  1. Wow, this is deep and useful for writers. TY, Carol for taking the time to give us an example using your own work. Congrats on this debut.

    1. Kathy - thank you! I hope it will be useful for others!

  2. I'm familiar with de Bono's work from years ago, but had forgotten about it. I think I need to search my shelves for his books. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Let me know if you could digest more than I did! I'm thrilled that I found this one technique that works so well...although his "six thinking hats" is also well-known and easily usable.

  3. Great post, Carol. So useful to find new ways in to a plot or story problem. Love the reversal technique you described and challenging those assumptions. Many thanks!

    1. Thanks, Eileen! You would have lots of fun with the technique!

  4. Thank you, Carol, for sharing de Bono's work. You've given me new ways to solve story issues. Your personal example is gold!

  5. Interesting way to get out of a writing rut. Thanks, Carol!

  6. Wonderful, Carol. I'm looking forward to trying this approach.

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks for this post and a new way of looking at story challenges. I look forward to reading Reeni's Turn and finding out what obstacles you discovered for her.

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