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The Joys of Mental Sex: Lesson VIII

December 7, 2009

More Barriers to Bash

IX. Avoid ambiguity; it causes communication problems.

This is a touchy subject. In the end, we want to avoid ambiguity in our manuscripts. If the words we write aren’t clear, it doesn’t matter how great our stories are. They just won’t sell.

On the other hand, ambiguity helps generate creative flow. Our creative minds like to have fun. Brain teasers and other puzzles allow the mind to play.

I ended the last lesson with the following exercise:

In the following line of letters, cross out six letters so that the remaining letters, without altering their sequence, spell a familiar English word.


I must give Aislinn a cyber bow. I’ve never had anyone get the answer so quickly. For most people, their minds puzzle over it, asking, “What’s going on here?” or “What does it mean?” or “How else can it be interpreted.”

The answer lies in discovering the ambiguity of the words and realizing that by marking through the letters that spell “SIX LETTERS” the answer is obvious – BANANA.

Paradoxes are another excellent method for sparking creative play. They force us to question assumptions. Through them, we allow random pieces of information to stimulate our thinking.

Heraclitus, Greek philosopher, 5th century BC, is famous for his paradoxes. He used them to stimulate his students to think outside the norms and constraints of their reality. I’ve printed several of his more famous ones below. Read through them and see if they don’t get you thinking flowing.

  • Everything flows.
  • It is not possible to step into the same river twice.
  • Sea water is the purest and most polluted: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving. For men, not drinkable and destructive.
  • They do not understand how that which differs with itself is in agreement: harmony consists of opposing tension, like that of lyre and bow.
  • They way up and the way down are one and the same.
  • If all things turned to smoke, the nose would be the discriminating organ.
  • If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not reach it, for it is not reached by search or trail.
  • There await men after they are dead things that they do not expect or imagine.
  • Time is a child playing draughts: the kingship is in the hands of a child.
  • It is not good for men to achieve all they wish.
  • Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
  • A man’s character is his destiny.
  • I search into myself.
  • Lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed.

Note: I normally discuss Dreams and Day Dreams here, but the subject is so long, that I will regulate it to its own lesson.

X. To err is wrong.

This is just plain not true. As long as we learn from mistakes and failure, they are portals of discovery. As I mentioned before, failures viewed with the proper perspective, teach us valuable lessons. They make us push harder and try more. They force the success-driven individual to seek alternatives and strive for new venues.

As writers, we hate rejection. We have good cause. Our manuscripts are our inner voice filling pages. The rejection of our manuscripts may be personal to us, while to an editor it’s just another story. It’s even more frustrating when we receive no reason for the rejection. Many times, we don’t realize it’s because the editor recently purchased a manuscript that is very similar or it’s just not a subject of interest to him/her.

One way to help yourself through this is to always keep writing goals separate from publishing goals. And never set goals you cannot attain. Goals and objectives are a separate class, but for the purpose of this lesson, I will say this. Publication is something you do not have control over. As long as you are sending out queries, partials, or whatever, you are doing all you can. Publication may be a long term goal, but when writing your short-term goals which direct what you are doing to achieve the long-term goal, make them realistic and dependent upon your actions alone. You cannot be accountable for other people’s actions – only your own.

When setting short-term goals toward publication, consider things like:

  • Send out query letters to x,y,z publishers/agents by x date.
  • Respond to all query responses with thank you notes within 1 week.
  • Write pitch for x manuscript for x conference by x date.

These are things you can control. Pat yourself on the back when you accomplish your goals. Don’t worry about what others do, except to the extent that you may need to expand your goals to include further queries, etc.

Lastly, a goal that isn’t written down is a fantasy. Be a professional and write your goals down in a way that you can retrieve them and review them often. They provide directions to your creative mind.

 Until next time, take care, Merry Christmas and Happy Writing!

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