Are You Spongeworthy?
Pop quiz: how did Da Vinci invent the bicycle?
If you said: “Hours of hard work at a drafting table combining the laws of physics with an ergonomic design and structure suitable to comfortably accommodate a human rider”, then you are absolutely wrong.
Almost absolutely, in any case. He did eventually get to his desk to draw the thing up. But the real answer* is that he came up with the idea while throwing a paint-soaked sponge against a wall.
Sound like fun? I’d say so! Da Vinci liked to explore how the mind made connections between two seemingly different objects or ideas.
One way he did that was to trick his mind into seeing things. He likely knew that the human brain was hardwired to see patterns in the world around us, even if they are random and don’t really exist. Anyone who has spent time looking up at the clouds to find dolphins or hearts or maps of Ireland knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Maybe Da Vinci was bored one day – a bright, clear day with no clouds for miles, I imagine – and rather than wait for the clouds to roll in, he decided to make his own random patterns. So, he put some sponges in paint and threw them against the wall to see what he could see. One of the things that jumped out of him was a horse with wheels. Now, you and I might think that sounds like the Trojan horse. But Da Vinci imagined a different kind of wooden horse, one that nobody had ever seen before. Da Vinci’s horse had two wheels that people could mount and pedal and ride. And ta-da! The Tour de France was born 400 short years later.
What I love most about this story is that it starts with Da Vinci having fun.
Fun = Creativity = Great Writing
There are loads of articles and books and treatises and even poems (probably – I haven’t looked) about the connection between fun and creativity. This is why I stress it so much that writing should always start with having fun. You need to play around, not sit for hours in serious contemplation. I mean yes, there is a need for that too – Da Vinci’s first drawings of his new invention probably took considerable time, drafts, and concentration.
For us writers, that comes in the editing stages. But Da Vinci’s initial spark – his original idea – came from screwing around with a sponge, some paint, and a total disregard for whoever did the washing up at his place.
Now here’s something really exciting: we writers have a HUGE advantage over Da Vinci. We don’t need sponges or paint or even a wall to throw ideas against. All we need is a pen and a paper. (Which is a good thing, since most of us do our own cleaning up…) The key though is that you have to throw down the ideas before you can say to yourself, “What the hell does that even mean?” Because you know what? Often it does mean something, even if you can’t see it right away. Sometimes you have to put them down and play with them before they turn into anything.
It goes back to the whole notion of writing with wild abandon. Don’t think. Just write. Smear that page with as many globs of ink as you can. Then go back and figure out what it all means. Maybe it will mean nothing.
Or maybe you’ll start seeing bicycles where no bicycles existed in the universe before.
Key Takeaway: When you let loose and just play with words, you make associations you may never have thought of otherwise.
Fun Writing Exercise
Go to this random word generator and ask it to choose six words for you. This will be the writer’s equivalent of Da Vinci throwing paint-soaked sponges onto a wall. Write 200 words based the story that develops in your mind from the words in front of you.
Incidentally, I tried it myself and got these words:
I don’t even want to tell you what those words turned into... lol
When you’re done you’re 200 words, come back and let us know how you did in the comments.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
*There are a number of credible sources who claim that Leonardo Da Vinci did not invent the bicycle. You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet – and especially two things that contradict one another. So, I choose to believe this fun, whimsical story upon which I’ve built this whole post...
End Note: Some will recognize the title of this post from an episode of Seinfeld. I thought it would make the perfect title for a post about making random connections because it has absolutely no relation to this post whatsoever other than the word “sponge”.