Inducing an epiphany

In my previous post, I talked about epiphanies, sudden realization of something you knew but didn’t know. You can make them happen. I learned this technique from Chip Scanlan at the Poynter Institute, who used it for a different purpose and in a different form.

You need four sheets of paper and a pencil. You write a partial prompting sentence at the top, such as “My Z made me Y…” or “I didn’t know that X….” Then you fill in the blanks (Z and Y, or X), and continue to write without raising the pencil. You scribble at top speed, never backing up, never correcting, never reading, never worrying about spelling or grammar or sense. You keep this up until you run out of steam, usually halfway down the page. Then you stop, stand up, walk around, shake your bootie, and sit down again.

Then, without reading what you wrote, you repeat the whole process, starting with the same partial sentence with blanks, and scribbling non-stop, borderline mindless, until you run out again. Then, without reading, you repeat the process twice more, or until you write to the bottom of the page. Then and only then, you read what you’ve written on the final page.

When I first tried this technique, I discovered I’d written, “I’m glad my father died.” I didn’t know that until that moment. Yesterday, I led a stuck writer through this process, and she discovered what she was failing to say was not at all what she wanted to say. It’s a quick and dirty coaching technique.

You can direct your epiphany a little by slanting your opening sentence fragment. Lately, I’ve wondered why I could never sing as an adult. (I can’t even hum!) So my opener could be something like this: “I sang as a child until ….”

N.B. Sometimes this magic doesn’t work.

[Ever experience an epiphany by writing?]

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Don, it has been many years since I took a class from you while I was at the Columbia Daily Tribune. So glad I discovered your blog.
    When my father died several years ago, I was reporting for the Boston Herald. He died quietly, with his family around his bed. I went into the office the next day to write his obituary for the paper. He, too, had not been one to talk about his life. He had been in the Coast Guard in WWII, and became a butcher then a typewriter repairman after he started a family. In the obit, I included a number of things that had come up with family members in the reminiscing the previous night. My sister recalled how, many years before X-box, he had tinkered in the basement and come up with a simple gadget to let us play an extremely rudimentary game of Pong on the TV. I submitted the story and left. The next day, to my surprise, my sister called laughing. “Have you seen the paper?” I hadn’t. The headline writers, bless their inky fingers, had seized on the Pong reference–one sentence–and slapped across my dad’s obit, “Philip Walsh, Inventor.”
    The epiphany followed the laughter, when I realized that he really was an inventor, but not of video games. He went though a lot of things in his life, adapting each time and, generally, coming out renewed.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Great to hear from you. Your obit unearthed things that your family would have forgotten, and brought your father to life again. Cngratulations.

  3. Kopaonik Cazare

    Hi there to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this website, and your views are pleasant for new people.

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