What do you think of when you hear the word door? Or when you see a picture of a door?
Does it make a difference which kind of door?
Kids who’ve been untarnished by rigid educational protocols naturally think in terms of similes and metaphors. As I’ve said before, we’re born creative—in God’s image. Imago Dei. But if we get to adulthood having “lost” our imagination, we might have to work a little harder to re-discover it. This brainstorming exercise helps us do that.
The rules are simple: start with a word, phrase, or concept in the middle of the page, then write down snippets of whatever comes to mind. Not in a list or outline, but spiraling out from the word like fireworks.
Jot any association of word or image. Keep writing and fill the whole page. Take rabbit trails off new words. No censoring! And don’t worry about spelling, grammar, penmanship, time limits, or any of that left-brained stuff. Just let yourself go.
Why do this?
1) It helps get all the words and images that are stuck in your brain out onto the paper. Those words are your raw materials to build with.
2) This free association enables you to come up with connections you might not have thought of before. Including really cool similes and metaphors to use in writing.
In fact, if you have a few minutes, try clustering right now. Read all the instructions below first.
What comes to mind when you think of the word DOOR?
• Write the word DOOR in the middle of a blank page and circle it. Add 6 lines (like spokes) going out from DOOR. Write each of the 6 senses at the end of each spoke and circle those individual words.
Yes, I said 6. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch/feel when you think of DOOR? Those are the 5 senses. The 6th sense is not extra-sensory perception. It’s kinesthetic. What do you feel on the inside, under your skin? Not emotions, but the result of emotions: your stomach, muscles, joints, nerves, and so on.
• But don’t stop there. Write whatever comes to mind without worrying which sense it goes with. Go from tangible to intangible. From concrete to abstract. Go beyond the obvious.
• Set a timer for 5 minutes and just start writing everything that comes to mind when you think of the word DOOR. Do this without music or distractions. Just focus.
• No censoring! No judging! Nobody’s looking over your shoulder to make you feel foolish. Just write whatever. Keep the pen moving. And don’t watch the clock. Don’t read ahead, either. Feel free to take rabbit trails.
Ready? Start the timer. Five minutes.
What did you come up with for the word DOOR? There are no right or wrong answers. (Feel free to share in comments below.)
Here’s what some students thought of, in various lines of thought. If certain words seem unrelated to DOOR, remember that rabbit trails are encouraged.
• slam, punch, crunch, kick, anger
• Door of Opportunity
• Door Number 1, 2, or 3; game show The Price is Right
• “When God closes a door, He opens a window” (or variations of that); The Sound of Music movie . . .
• wasted opportunities, stairway, ladder to success
• doorknob, lock, key, unlock, key to success, key to happiness, etc.
• annoying little brother pounds on the bedroom door, pestering
• salesman knocks on the front door during dinner
• privacy, behind closed doors, secrets, closed heart, stuck, stagnant
• locked in, locked out, reaching for the doorknob, too short
• Alice in Wonderland standing at the door down the rabbit hole
• signs on doors, brass plates
• European doors, American farmhouse doors, practical doors, fancy doors, castle doors, long dark corridors, cellar doors
• huge temple doors that require many men to move them
• architecture . . .
And so on . . . That’s just the beginning.
What’s the point? The point is that you can make connections, and that you have something worthwhile to say.
It’s a starting point for creativity. I’ve had students finish brainstorming like this and suddenly want to keep writing, whether a poem or an essay. They narrow their focus, decide on their purpose, and start composing.
Here’s a student writing sample–just a first line–after clustering DOOR. Any writing that follows this is “free writing,” a first draft based on one aspect of the cluster. By free writing, I mean the first stream of consciousness out of one’s pen, without polishing or editing.
Life is a roomful of open doors that close as you get older.
That’s just a start. Think of where that one concept can take you as you mull it over. Consider DOOR as a metaphor for life’s options:
• How many are there?
• Are they opening or closing?
• Do you see them all at once or are they a progression?
• How big are they? Does size matter?
• Do you have control over whether they open or close?
• Which door are you most drawn to and why?
• How are doors and windows similar and different?
• How have closed doors impacted you?
• What do you do when you see a closed door (literally or figuratively)?
Most likely you came up with your own thoughts about DOOR. If you feel led to write about that now, do it! Get that first sentence on the page and start going. Don’t worry about form, content, order, grammar, etc. Just get your thoughts down. You can revise later, if you want. Or not.
The main thing is to discover connections, metaphors, and irony. Discover that you have something to say, and a unique vehicle (sometimes a metaphor) to say it with. Clustering can take you in directions you may not have considered before. It’s all part of the PROCESS.
And it all starts with one little word: DOOR.
What connections did you discover for the word “door”?
I’d love to hear from you!