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Overcoming Writer's Block with Particle, Wave, Field Theory
It's Demolition Time
We get writer's block, otherwise known as white page syndrome, blank canvas terror, or frozen brain, from time to time. Here's an easy writing exercise based on particle, wave, field theory (yes, it's a writing heuristic derived in part from the study of physics), guaranteed to help you overcome writer's block.
It should take you about 10 minutes to read this article and understand the basic three-step drill. After that, you will be ready to unblock the powerful words hammering at the inside of your skull.
Let's get right to the three steps. At the end of this article, you will find an explanation of the brilliant background and theory of this writing exercise.
Get Yourself Set Up for Demolishing Writer’s Block
Choose the writing medium that works for you. Your PC? Pad and pencil? Pen and notebook? Crayon and paper? Whatever is comfortable.
Give the dog a bone. Make sure the kids are tended to, and don't let anything be boiling over on the stove. You don't want distractions.
Choose a physical stimulus. Anything that affects your senses. Pick something that you can see, feel, smell, taste, or hear. Whether it's a work of art on the wall of your study or the sink in your kitchen, the texture of your chair fabric or the metal of the pen in your hand, the fragrance of a slab of meat curing in the smoker or the stench of a pile of doggie-do in the yard, the salty taste of a sardine or the bitter-sweet of dark chocolate on your tongue, or a favorite piece of music or the call of a summer bird, any will work well for this writing exercise. Let's call this stimulus the "object".
After you try this exercise once or twice with a well-defined object within your sensory grasp, you can move on to the thoughts in your mind.
Step 1: Describe the object exactly as you perceive it (the particle).
What is its name? What are its dimensions (how big is it)? What are the parts it is made of? What is its color? How much does it weigh? What is it made of? How old is it?
Focus on the immediate, physical characteristics of the object.
Example: In front of me on the patio's glass-topped table stands a cobalt blue glass vase brimming with more than a dozen stems of shockingly blue delphiniums. Delivered just a few minutes ago by the florist, this fresh bouquet and its vase are still cool to the touch. Although these eye-candy flowers have no fragrance, they do have a powerful presence, placed as they are in the dappled shade of the overhanging maple tree and reflected in the glass top of the table. Nestled among the stems of blossoms is a plastic stick pinching a little note card. The note card, which I hold in my shaking hand, says, "Happy Birthday, Hon. Jack."
Step 2: Describe how the object changes over time (the wave).
What was the object doing before it came here? What is its history? What will it do after I leave? What is its future?
Be as expansive or restrictive in the time frame of the change as you like: look at the object's change over millennia, or just how it changes during the time you are observing or engaging with it.
Example: Doing my best to calm my furious thoughts, I sit down on a chair at the table and look at the flowers. I cannot deny that they are gorgeous. I wonder how far away these flowers were grown, how they were harvested, what kind of containers they were packed in, and whether they spent time in a truck or an airplane or a train. They were cool to the touch when they arrived here, and I imagine they were refrigerated during their entire journey. They certainly were not picked by Jack.
A light breeze picks up above the maple tree, and I watch the top-most delphinium blossoms quiver. A bee comes to inspect the pale yellow center of a delicate flower, seems to find it distasteful, and dashes off. The bee is my guide. I get up from the table, pick up the vase, walk the length of the yard to the trash bin, and pitch. I hear the vase smash to pieces. My fury is calmed.
Where are we in our universe?
Step 3: Describe the object in its larger context (the field).
How does the object relate to the larger world that contains it? What does the object remind you of? What is its purpose?
Think about your personal universe, the world you grew up in. Think about the physical universe you learned about in school. What associations between the object and these worlds can you see?
Example: I see Jack in his car this morning, driving to work, holding his cell phone to his left ear, barking instructions to the florist about this obligatory bouquet. I know this task was recorded in his cell phone organizer. With just a tap of a button, my birthday flowers would be on their way, and he could get on with his schmoozing sales calls and lunch-time martini swilling. But, after all, he was raised to do the "right" thing, wasn't he?
Now, with the vase smashed in the bottom of the trash bin, I hear the phone ring. I pick up my wallet and keys and a light jacket to wear in the cooling afternoon, and I walk through the front door and lock it behind me. I make a mental note to buy some honey.
More Ways To Demolish Writer's Block
Particle, Wave, Field Theory: Tagmemics
The term particle, wave, field theory belongs only to the study of linguistics, not to the study of physics. Particle, wave, field theory is a subset of tagmemics discourse theory, developed from the work of Kenneth L. Pike in the 1970s. In the 1980s, particle, wave, field became a staple in both undergraduate and graduate courses of study as an aid to stimulate thought and writing.
Linguists are well-degreed, scientifically-oriented academicians who study language in many dimensions. The dimensions include grammar, meaning, language origin, human physiology, and psycho-social dynamics. Wikipedia does a fairly good job describing linguistics, so I leave the further details and references to them.
Linguists, being the scientists and philosophers they are, reached toward the study of physics to find commonalities in human and physical experience in order to illuminate the systems and processes of language.
In physics, particle refers to the smallest dimension of an object in its most elemental form (think atom and sub-atomic particle). Wave , in its simplest definition, is change (how does a particle change through time?). Field is, to me, the most interesting. This linguistic term comes from quantum field theory, where interactive and dynamic systems occur only in contexts larger than themselves. For us, as writers, field means that there is no idea or object that exists in isolation.
If You Want To Go There...
- Tagmemics Theory
Not for the faint of heart.
- Quantum Field Theory
Wikipedia explains this theory in summary, and mostly in layman's terms.
- Linguists and Linguistics
From MIT's department of linguistics and philosophy.
- Particle, Wave, Field Theory
Taking particle, wave, field theory to another level; it’s not as simple as I’ve described in this article (this is a PDF file).
A Note about My Writing Example
When I started to write this article, I looked around my office for an object I wanted to use as an example. I focused on a drawing I did in 1985. As I went through the particle, wave, field exercise, this drawing yielded nothing interesting, nothing I could "sink my teeth into", if you will. I moved on to something I had recently sold on eBay, but only had a picture of. I liked the item, but it didn't trigger any motivation or commitment. So I looked through my photo files over the last few years, and this picture of delphiniums rang a bell of some sort, although I couldn't identify its tone or pitch. As I worked through the exercise using the delphiniums, a story evolved. A story I didn't know was there, buried in my heart, soul, and mind.
This is a powerful exercise, guaranteed to demolish writer's block.
Many thanks to Robie2, who suggested a title that wouldn't put everyone to sleep.
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