Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Percolate (Beyond the Words - 2)

Percolate. The word raises memories of our stove top coffee percolator with its transparent glass knob that gave us a glimpse of the action within. I loved the rhythmic chunk...chunk... sound of coffee bubbling into that knob, and the fabulous smell that told us mom would soon call us to Sunday lunch of zwieback, cheese, jam, peanut butter, pickles and matrimonial cake. Percolated coffee was a treat, pretty much reserved for company or Sunday Faspah* (the rest of the time we drank instant).

Which is why Bonni Goldberg's choice of the word "percolate" for one of the activities we writers engage in seems entirely fitting. For It holds within it for writing, as for coffee, the promise of good things to come.

Goldberg talks about percolation in Chapter 2 of Beyond the Words. Here's her definition:

"Percolation is the process writers go through before actually writing. It's a particular way of paying attention that begins the moment you're inspired. You continue to percolate as you spend time with your inspiration and allow it to develop. This includes everything you do that leads up to a first draft, the time between any two writing sessions, even the time during the breaks you take in a single writing session. Percolation tapers off as you solidify your first inklings in words, but it doesn't end until you're entirely finished with a piece" p. 15.

Here are some other things she says about percolation (the first quote within the quote is from  Edna O'Brien):

"'Writing is like carrying a fetus.' Just as a fetus first grows amphibian-like gills and a tail before it takes its final human form, so a piece of writing first needs to develop into a pre-written state in the world of the psyche. Percolation is the incubation time, but there's no standard gestation period..." p. 17.

"The truth is, most writing ideas have been gathering momentum within us for a long time. They surface as inspiration when they grow urgent. In a sense, percolation is the period of time you give to your emotions, intellect, intuition, and imagination to recognize that your idea is now a priority" p. 18.

Here are some ways to percolate:

1. Consciously keep company with your idea by repeating it to yourself and noticing the effect...be aware of the range of emotions it brings out, or the character who is speaking.

2. Percolate about the opposite of your idea to see how it plays off the original.

3. Look for connections between your idea and people, places, and situations that are part of your life.

4. Notice how your idea suggests something to try in your life.

5. Take time to experience fully the curiosity, excitement and wonder about your idea.  (Paraphrased from p. 16.)

Finally, here is my favourite percolation quote:

"Percolation isn't procrastination. We need the energy percolating supplies to our ideas. The psyche is at work. Our senses are attuned inward. We're feeding our idea" p. 20.

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My thoughts:

  • Isn't it good to know that we don't have to be parked in front of the computer to be working? No guilt that we're shopping or baking cookies — we're percolating!
  • We need to be patient not to force the process, to let percolation take its course so that we come up with the richest brew.
  • We also need to be prepared with notebook and pen because percolation happens anytime — when we're on a walk, driving, or standing in line at the store — and we need to be ready to write down those great ideas.
  • One thing I've done to start the percolation process is to give my brain an assignment. If I have a column due, for example, I'll think of some topic options and then tell my brain to get to work on them. It's surprising how that helps me choose which idea is best and put the elements into place in the finished piece.  
*Faspah: a low German word for a light lunch, similar to an English tea.

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