writing open the mind

Rolling around on the floor, stretching into new shapes, making sculptures with our bodies: it sounds more like a yoga practice than a writing practice. But Andy Couturier, in his new book Writing Open the Mind: Tapping the Subconscious to Free the Writing and the Writer, claims that following the lead of our physical bodies can lead to profound changes in how we write. Couturier, an Oakland-based author and writing teacher, describes physical exercises that encourage our brain to stretch into our body’s memories. In so doing, he helps writers of all stripes and desires, inhibitions and ambitions sidestep linear, goal-oriented thought – freeing our writing to take us where it will. 

This book isn’t limited to a discussion of how we can tap into our body’s connection to thoughts and language. It’s a quirky yet practical guide to freeing the writer within, a compendium of games you can play alone or in a group, a seemingly endless series of opportunities to find a new vein of writing gold. 

How about a build-it-yourself word-game that uses household do-dads, a bottle of Chinese hot spice and arrows hand-drawn on 3×5 index cards? How about making word lists, and then ripping them apart, flinging the bits into the space of your freest thoughts, jumbling them into a writing that’s entirely new, yet always you? How about sniffing a series of aromatic props, one at a time, and writing about your topic from within each of those sensory-emotional states? I could go on – because the book does. 

In a section called “Dilated by Sound,” Couturier suggests writing on a particular topic as you listen to a smorgasbord of different sounds, one after the other. Maybe you’ve cued up some songs on your iPod, or maybe you’ve got an old haunted house LP. Worried about that word “topic”? While this book is not a tutorial on finding the Right Topic, Couturier does offer tips for dialing into new ideas (for instance, “pick any title from a book on your shelf”), all while focusing more on the process of tapping new writing mines within.

One chapter explores the connection between our bodies and our thoughts. Couturier suggests using key words to act out a series of movements and gestures that can bring new insight to your writing. He proposes taking on various personas, like an intimate friend, a puppy, a wave or a godzilla-esque monster. Channel that person or animal’s movements, make them your own and then, after a few minutes, write from that space.

As Couturier said recently: “As any yogi has experienced, asanas conjure images, memories and feelings. Body workers, too, know that specific memories can be lodged in specific locations in the body, in the musculature itself. Given that many people have known this for a long time, it’s a wonder that writers don’t use the body as a gateway to powerful writing more often.”

In Writing Open the Mind, Couturier invites, “Imagine that there is an unknown, uncharted place in which you have been invited to travel, a place jam-packed with hidden treatises on What’s What. These treatises are camping out in crevices, obscured from view. They might be wisdom, or facts, or the story you will write, or the turn of phrase that you need. They are crumpled-up little bits of paper on What You Know (but don’t know you know) and they are scattered throughout this land. 

“This uncharted place is, in fact, your body. It can produce different textures of energy –  sensuously silky, or deeply quiet, or madhouse gonzo – which can give you access to writing that you had no idea you had. The crumpled-up notes get unfolded, and you can smooth them out, pressing them flat against your thigh, and read what they say.”

Throughout the book, Couturier cajoles us along his own quirky word path, strewn with made-up confabulations and syllable sounds you can’t resist saying out loud. But even as he rockets his language-shuttle to far-off lands, he’s never out of sight. His language explores beyond the well-known, yet he never loses us. It’s as though Couturier is forging a new road just ahead, and even as he steps forward along that road, he’s stretching his hand back to us, and all we have to do is choose to take it, and find a new kind of freedom to write.

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