For several years I’ve been participating in prompted writing workshops, and last year I became a certified writing workshop leader in the AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists) method of facilitation. I’ve written many pieces about the magic of this process; how one can arrive to the workshop without a clear idea of what they’d like to write, and emerge a couple of hours or a day later with a bundle of promising pieces under their arms.
I’ve been thinking about how that comes to pass. Part of it is the bum in chair aspect – the accountability of being in a group with the express purpose of writing something. Part of it is the understanding that there’s no way to do a first draft wrong and trusting the feedback will only focus on what works in your fresh piece of writing. But there’s an ineffable aspect of the process that is the real meat of the matter. It’s that suspended moment after the prompt has been offered – whether it’s a scent or an image or a texture, a sentence stem or a poem – before the pens hit the page where memory and imagination hover and entwine. Eyes look up and left. Eyes look up and right. Memories flood in. Creative juices begin to flow. Some writers take several moments before touching the tips of their pens to the page, while others leap over hesitation and doubt and let their pens mingle with recollection and fabrication.
That gap is pregnant with possibility. One prompt, say, the smell of smoke, could elicit a poem about British Columbia forest fires, a childhood tale of camping in the forest, a memoir of a father blowing smoke rings, a scene in which the family home burns to the ground, or an essay on the benefits of smoking marijuana.
I’m fascinated by the quality of these moments, but equally fascinated by the eye movements that occur. A few years ago I took a Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP) weekend course, which in part revealed what various eye movements indicate.
In his article, Eye Movements and NLP, Robert Dilts identifies the following eye movement cues to ascertain which part of the brain’s function is activated:
Eyes Up and Left: Non-dominant hemisphere visualization – i.e., remembered imagery
Eyes Up and Right: Dominant hemisphere visualization – i.e., constructed imagery and visual fantasy
Eyes Lateral Left: Non-dominant hemisphere auditory processing – i.e., remembered sounds, words, and “tape loops” and tonal discrimination
Eyes Lateral Right: Dominant hemisphere auditory processing – i.e., constructed sounds and words
Eyes Down and Left: Internal dialogue, or inner self-talk
Eyes Down and Right: Feelings, both tactile and visceral
Eyes Straight Ahead, but Defocused or Dilated: Quick access of almost any sensory information; but usually visual
I’ve witnessed all of the above and for most people it seems to hold true. But I can’t help having a little giggle when I consider what it might look like when a writer creates a complete and rich scene – where every one of the above processes is required. One has to access memory in order to evoke believable scenes, dialogue, scents, sounds, etc., but even in memoir one also must enhance, fabricate or imagine the details of the past. In order for a reader to experience an emotional response from the writing, the writer must access those feelings. And so on. Our eyes must roll around in our heads!
Back to the thrill of not knowing…
Eye movement is just one indication that the mysterious brain is putting together something new, something unique. Even if it is a familiar topic, a well-worn story, or that same scene that returns to haunt you, this time you can allow that suspended moment of possibility weave its magic to create something that may surprise even you.