My Law Of Graffiti.

The Rebel Writer Writes, And Having Writ, Moves On

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I am not a scientist, thank God. I believe science is too serious a matter to be left to scientists alone. This time I’m going to write about theory and practice of science writing – I theorize, you practice.

Based on his deduction, Isaac Newton comes up with his Law of Gravity in 1687; based on his assumption, Albert Einstein revises Newton’s Law with his Theory of Special Relativity in 1915; based on my intuition, I have just revised both geniuses with my Law of Graffiti, 2008. The British mathematician is revised by the German physicist; both are revised by the Filipino writer. It all goes to show that insight knows no color, creed, credential, or genius. It also goes to show that the sciences of mathematics and physics are no match to the art of creative thinking. See, there are no dull sciences, only dull scientists – or dull science writers.

Let me tell you how the idea of the Law of Graffiti has come about to me. Thinking of the next chapter of my new book, this time on creative science writing, on January 17 (Manila time), I googled for “how to start” writing (including the double quotes) and got 846 English pages with Safesearch; I googled for begin OR start writing and got 11,000,000 English pages with Safesearch. Quality is in the numbers? Quality is in the Scan, not in the Search; quality is in the Googler, not in Google – Google cannot think for you; you have to think for yourself.

Scanning my Search Results and speed-reading the webpages of the ones that looked promising, I noted that in ‘Get Writing,’ BBC advises (bbc.co.uk):

In order to let your ideas flow freely and your confidence to rise, you do need to write regularly. Invest in a notebook and use it to make jottings and observations at a time to suit you.

That’s good advice for writing from a broadcaster – the BBC geniuses know you have to be good first at writing to be good at broadcasting. Such advice I have found helpful myself in all my 50 years of getting to write – not necessarily getting to be published. There are far too few geniuses in the publishing business here and abroad. (I have also lost many manuscripts to moldy 1.4 MB diskettes, if you remember them.)

After BBC, after scanning and skipping a great many webpages, I came across award-winning six-novel author Randy Ingermanson’s website, advancefictionwriting.com, where he says:

Before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. … You need a design document. And you need to produce it using a process that doesn’t kill your desire to actually write the story.

He billed himself ‘America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing’ (he doesn’t scare me, I’m afraid), but I thought twice about his advice on getting organized, but then again, Randy’s device? His metaphor of a snowflake struck me – you build your story in the form of a virtual snowflake, starting with a triangle. I’m not into fiction, but that’s the idea. Snowflake, hmm. From Randy’s metaphor, I thought, why not my own metaphor for creative thinking leading to creative writing? After all, I look at creative thinking differently from Randy. Also, I live in the tropics and I have never seen a snowflake, but I have seen a brainstorm – here is one coming right now.

Then I got the metaphor of the graffiti. Almost instantly my mind reworked it into American Graffiti? No, The Law of Graffiti. That’s the Reader’s Digest in me; in my copywriting days at Pacifica Publicity Bureau in Manila, my good friend Orli Ochosa remembers our Creative Director Nonoy Gallardo calling me Mr Punster. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not work: it’s play.

You are reading Chapter 1 of my new book, The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies (I have already come out with the Introduction; see ‘My Crazy Dozen. The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies,’ 2008 January 7, americanchronicle.com). The whole book is on creative thinking for authors, including science writers. I’m publishing it here chapter by chapter for free, my way of sharing my gift. This chapter is all about Writer’s Block, brainstorming, starting to create, beginning to write; this is all about the Search for the Holy Grail of Serendipity, for which you need freedom.

I’m presenting my Law of Graffiti as a new paradigm in the active pursuit of creative thinking, in contradistinction to Tony Buzan’s art of the Mind Map and to Edward de Bono’s art of Lateral Thinking. I say Frank Hilario’s Law of Graffiti elevates Ray Bradbury’s art of Word Association and Rudolf Flesch’s art of the Creative Math (my term) (see my ‘Jatropha Math? Science Serves The People When Media Create Content, Not Discontent,’ 2007 December 3, americanchronicle.com); it’s more intriguing and more engaging than Sarah Jensen‘s art of Diving Deeper (see source below). Serendipity is not about beginning right; rather, it is about beginning bright.

In one of my old favorites, his book How To Write, Speak & Think More Effectively (1963), I remember Rudolf Flesch saying, ‘Begin anywhere but begin!’ But I don’t remember him telling me how to continue. Either he forgot, or I did. (I’m 67 going on 68, and I’ve lost my copy.)

Sandra Jensen writes (2007 May 5, ‘Diving Deeper: A Writing Workshop’ – pods.gaia.com): ‘The blank page (has) been called the greatest challenge to (a writer)’ (the words in parentheses are mine). It’s otherwise called ‘Writer’s Block,’ an epidemic if I may say so myself. My Google Search for “Writer’s Block” gave me 3,060,000 English pages with Safesearch.

Paul Graham writes (2005 March, paulgraham.com), ‘Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can.’ Reviewing my essay January 21 and being inspired further, I come out with the 1st Law of Graffiti Thinking, and it is this, borrowing from genius: E = mc2 (E equals m times c squared), where E is Enlightenment (inspiration or insight), m is mass of materials, and c is the speed of write.

On hindsight, because I have been obeying the 1st Law of Graffiti Thinking for the last 43 years at least, I have never had Writer’s Block, starting with my encounter with Flesch’s book (see also my ‘Jatropha Math? Science Serves The People When Media Create Content, Not Discontent,’ December 3, americanchronicle.com). Then, about 20 years ago, I began thinking about how I could teach creative writing without Writer’s Block getting in the way, using the personal computer and a word processing software. (Mission Impossible. About 15 years ago, I offered to teach it in two colleges of the University of the Philippines (my alma mater), but they both rejected my proposal on exactly the same grounds: that I didn’t have a Masters degree and I wasn’t a new graduate. Some people equate the ability to teach creative writing with the PC with graduate courses and youth. I was about 53. So much for geniuses.) The long years of my search for a device or trick to bring out the creativity in each and every aspiring writer has at last led me to the ubiquitous and (un)obtrusive graffiti. Many a brainchild is born as the germ of an idea; this one took 20 years to become a seed. Better late than never.

Graffiti, thy name is man (embracing woman) in search of a publisher, or audience. Scratches and scribbles and scrawls and doodles and drawings and images and icons and words and whatnots that you are, private media on the wall in public places, you have inspired me to reach the heights of frivolity and fertility, of quantity and quality, of madness and meaning, of coming across and coming to terms. I am glad at last I found you, you who have been in full view all the time. You are the metaphor of the unwritten, of the unborn, the visible chaos of genius in the artist hidden in man. I now baptize you The Broadcast Antennae of the Creative Race. May the Force be with you always!

The Immanent Genius in Graffiti, I can say, on hindsight: Because creativity is born of chaos; because graffiti is chaos; because it’s always loose; because it’s sometimes humorous and therefore relaxing; because it happens at different times without sequence and at different places without direction; because it’s amateurish; because anything goes; because helter-skelter; because come what may; because no rules no borders no limits no excuses; because the graffiti artist is Lord and Master – for of such is the Kingdom of Serendipity, where there is no order and law.

What you need in creative writing is freedom, release from the law. That brings us back to Newton and Einstein with their Laws, with me trying to help you move the immovable object called Writer’s Block by looking for the irresistible force, which in the case of the artist is the intense impulse, the creative motive.

Newton’s Law states that what comes up must come down; Einstein’s Theory states that you cannot bend the laws of physics wherever you are – my theory is that in creative thinking, obeying the dictates of the Law of Gravity doesn’t work to the artist’s advantage and, in fact, an artist cannot be creative unless he bends the laws of physics whenever he tries to create.

Metaphors actually.

Having published 104 essays in science in the American Chronicle in the last 104 weeks (almost), I have come to realize that when writing about science, it is best to be thinking about masses coming up but not coming down, and laws being bent – I’m thinking of masses of data and information, and the laws of logic. When you begin the process of creative writing on science, you should be in another world other than that of science. This chapter is designed to lead you there. Not take you, mind; you have to take yourself.

How do you go about creative thinking? I say: Do the graffiti with me!

Here, let me teach you. But first, get yourself to relax; you can not be creative unless you can relax. So, to help you feel at ease, first let’s talk about the laws of physics that I know you have to break to get creative. Here are some pleasant thoughts:

‘The Law of Inertia.’ Nothing will happen to you (and your writing) if you prefer to preserve your inertia – to break the law, do something, anything – move!

‘Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.’ If you are creative, lightning will strike not only twice in the same place but many times, that is to say, flashes of genius will occur quite so often you’ll have a pleasant time not counting them. You will be energized. Yes, I think each of us has the capacity for genius. It makes me feel uneasy thinking I’m the only genius around here.

‘Work equals energy over distance.’ When you use my Law of Graffiti for brainstorming, trying to get rid of Writer’s Block or just simply beginning another piece of writing, you will get more even if you do less work and not spend so much energy. If you haven’t known about it, I have completely upended the Law of Genius according to Thomas Alva Edison; according to Frank Hilario, ‘Genius is 10% perspiration and 90% inspiration’ (see my ‘The Smart Revolution,’ americanchronicle.com). I have been inspired as much.

‘The speed of light in a vacuum is constant.’ You have to break this law. In creative thinking, you don’t want the speed of brilliance to be constant, and you don’t want to work in a vacuum!

Let us now turn to and violate Newton’s Three Laws of Motion; I’m reading Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ write-up (physics.about.com); I note:

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that ‘Every body continues in the state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.’ I’m impressing upon you that you have to break this law too. You don’t want to continue in a state of rest; that would be counter-productive. And neither do you want to move with a one-track mind; that would make your writing monotonous and tiresome.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion states that ‘The acceleration produced by a particular force acting on a body is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force and inversely proportional to the mass of the body.’ That means the speed of an object depends upon the force applied to it and the object itself. To break this law, turn it the other way around. Thus, in creative thinking, to increase the speed of inspiration, don’t force it. Like, if you are having a brainstorming session with a coach who keeps arguing against all kinds of ideas, your creativity speed is zero. (My advice: Since he cannot set the fire in you, fire him!) Reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen telling Alice in Wonderland about running and getting nowhere:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that!

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that ‘To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.’ That is to say, action meets reaction. How do you break this physical law and become creative? In creative thinking, if you do something and what happens depends on what you did, that’s not creative. The reaction should be of a different nature. And how do you do that? You make a paradigm shift.

Even if you and I didn’t know it as such, there is a famous example of a paradigm shift that dramatizes how creative thinking should go: Untying The Gordian Knot. I learned that in high school 50 years ago. While the tale is mythical, what happens is material as it is ingenious, inspired as creative thinking is. The story is from John Hagan (geocities.com); the words are mine:

Riding his wagon to the temple of Zeus, father of the gods, innocently Gordius fulfils an oracle, and the people make him their King. In homage, Gordius dedicates his wagon to Zeus, tying the yoke to the pole at the temple using a complex knot of cornel bark so intricate it defies unraveling. Fit for the gods. Out of the Gordian Knot, as it comes to be called, comes another oracle: ‘Whoever succeeds in untying the knot will be conqueror of all Asia.’ Every man worth his maleness tries and each one fails. Here comes Alexander the Great. He unties the Gordian Knot by cutting the whole thing with his sharp sword. With his sharp mind actually. And he goes on to conquer all of what is known as Asia. Genius knows no rules, no borders, no limits, no knots.

Now, about Alexander the Great’s paradigm shift, John Hagan views it differently: ‘Then, as everybody knows, he cheated on the oracle by cutting the knot with his sword instead of untying it.’ John, Alexander is using his head. Alexander merely changes his way of looking at the problem by what I call ‘changing the problem’ – from untying the knot to loosening it. Those other geniuses fail as they can’t cut it. In a flash of brilliance, my genius sees that the oracle does not say you can’t cut it. So Alexander the Great goes on to disprove those who say he can’t cut it.

Today, Sunday, January 20 (Manila), as I continue revising this essay, I can’t demonstrate on this page exactly how Frank’s Law of Graffiti works, but I can make another paradigm shift and give you another metaphor: The Phoenix Rising. This is from Narrate Conferences (thephoenixrises.org):

Upon the completion of its life cycle, the famed firebird builds its funeral pyre. After setting itself alight, it burns until nothing but ash remains and from that ash and flame, The Phoenix Rises.

In graffiti thinking, a term which I invented just now, which refers to creative thinking following my Law of Graffiti, when you cut & paste & delete & add to your notes and set your mind on fire, it is Your Own Phoenix Rising.

The Phoenix Rising describes graffiti thinking quite well. Consider this quote by Lady Gryphon from the Feng Shui Handbook of Master Lam Kam Chuen (mythicalrealm.com):

A mythical bird that never dies, the Phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. The Phoenix, with its great beauty, creates intense excitement and deathless inspiration.

From the ashes of your graffiti notes rises the Phoenix of your creativity.

The Brooklyn Museum says graffiti is ‘a form of subversive public communication (that) has become legitimate’ (brooklynmuseum.org); borrowing from that, I say graffiti thinking is a subversive form of creative thinking that is legitimate all at once. Some people call graffiti ‘tasteless vandalism’ (wikiHow); graffiti thinking makes graffiti a form of creative vandalism – you destroy your old materials and create something new out of them. Your Phoenix Rising.

In creative writing, from out of the ashes of graffiti thinking, you and I need something like the Phoenix to rise and inspire us. Otherwise, we expire even as we respire.

Now, how do you go about graffiti thinking? Observe Frank’s Law of Graffiti:

Every scribble, scratch, scrawl, doodle, drawing, image, icon, word, whatnot is inspiration waiting to be discovered.

Been there, done that. That’s how I have been able to write 100 full essays in 100 full weeks (see my ‘100 in 100. Celebrating Centennials & Counting,’ americanchronicle.com). Graffiti thinking for inspiration, for insight; graffiti for instant gratification. (For another uplifting kind of graffiti thinking, visit Cassidy Curtis’ ‘Graffiti Archaelogy‘ at otherthings.com/grafarc.) So, open your mind and heart and go discover yours!

To help you in your journey of discovery every time you write, here are my 5 steps to your graffiti thinking:

(1) Get an idea. You don’t have an idea what you want to write about? Go read a book, or open a magazine or journal. Listen to people. Go to the library. If you are not in the United States, not in England and not in Australia, read imported books or magazines – not local publications, and certainly not the local newspapers or their Sunday magazines: they’re depressing, not inspiring. Watch ‘CSI’ and how the plot thickens; watch ‘Dr House’ and how the clot thickens. You want to write in English – get ideas from the best! And don’t forget: While you’re reading, at all times, take notes, jot down your thoughts. In writing, jotting maketh an exact man.

(2) Go surfing and get more ideas. Surf the Internet and search well and long. Again, remember to take down notes and thoughts. Reading and surfing, speed-read if you like, but take notes. That should take you at least one morning, one afternoon, one evening, or one day. It will be time well-spent. The beauty of the Internet is that it is beauty always waiting to be discovered, and as an artist you should always be excited to explore both form and substance.

(3) Read those notes. Read them leisurely, but read! I said take notes twice, the first to get an idea, the second to get more ideas. Now you read what you have gathered along with your own thoughts jotted down. You are deliberately loading up your brain cells with ideas and information. Nothing comes out of an empty and closed mind; with your open mind, many possibilities pop up when you read and read again, and when you take notes and make notes in your own sweet time. This is the Age of the Information Superhighway, so go out and drive and enjoy the view, smell the flowers.

After all that, now your mind and your notebook or scratch paper should be full of whatever. The more you collect, the better for you. When you feel you have too much already, that’s the time to stop. For this essay, as I write at this point, I have 20 pages of notes singlespace, onscreen, in Word 2003, my favorite. The notes are your masses that now you work on, knowing that the Law of Graffiti works with those massive bodies of information.

But remember, those masses do not attract each other. Believe me, they disobey Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity – but they will follow Frank Hilario’s Law of Graffiti. And you will prove it to yourself.

(4) Assign keywords. Un-Newton-like, you yourself will have to make those masses of graffiti attract each other. What do you do? Read them again, one by one. And add notes of what comes to your mind. While you’re reading all those notes and jottings, write a keyword or two (as category, tag, or for reference) above each mass of text you see that are more or less related. You should now be getting the hang of it – absorbing little by little the essences of those bodies of text. (Don’t ignore the images. An image is worth a thousand words, so try to capture some of the powerful words in there.)

(5) Begin writing. So, are you now ready to begin writing? Here is a surprise from a technically minded expert, Julie Miller (2002, vt.essortment.com), who says:

The first step in writing a research paper is not to write at all but to absorb ideas, thoughts, and material. With your research topic in mind, a good place to start is traditionally the library, or more recently, the Internet for information. At the library, search for books, magazine articles, academic journals, and reference materials pertaining to your subject. Spend time wandering not only the aisles of books covering your subject, but widen your search to secondary sources that may contain useful research. On the Internet, use several search engines to get access to the most useful research. Follow the recommended listservs and websites to broaden your scope of information. In other words, have fun with the research process by absorbing new ideas, thoughts, and information. To recap, try not to even think about writing the research paper, but enjoy learning for learning’s sake.

She is writing for students; she is writing for you. I shall call that graffiti research, which is necessary for graffiti thinking. What Julie Miller says applies both to science writing for scientists and science writing for the rest of us. Both are creative acts.

Observe: Julie Miller is telling us that the right way to start writing is not to start writing right away. Assuming you have done your graffiti research, I will add to that and say that the right way to start writing is to follow the genius of Paul Graham: ‘Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can.’ Or follow Frank/Einstein’s genius: E = mc2. And so I leave you to the beginning of your creative writing. Remember: The journey of a thousand miles doesn’t begin with the first step – it begins with the first thought. May the Force of Graffiti be with you always!

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