Max creativity. The X Card Shuffle vs Mind Maps vs Artist's Way

Revised 29 June at 0744 hours Sunday Manila time

WRITER'S BLOCK. Jerry Mundis promises, 'I'll break Writer's Block for you immediately and forever' (unblock.org). For only $87, you can order his 3-hour seminar in MP3 format via PayPal and never have to worry about Writer's Block again – that's his promise. If not satisfied, money-back guaranteed, period. I checked out his website and the whole package looks good, very good. You can't max creativity if you can't eliminate Writer's Block.
Think of Jerry Mundis' promise to chop to pieces your Writer's Block forever within 3 hours, and think of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop where you have to spend 2 years that seems forever.
Am I selling Jerry Mundis? No, he can do that himself very well, thank you, but his topic is something very important to me, and his straight talk gets my attention. I'm surprised that the famous Iowa Writer's Workshop talks of a lively art scene within the University premises but never of removing Writer's Block. Neither does The Writer's Center (writer.org). Nicholas O'Connell has his own Writer's Workshop (thewritersworkshop.net), but he assumes that you have gotten over your Writer's Block in the first place. Nicholas, it won't go away if you simply ignore it.
I think Writer's Block is the single most important problem of (would-be) writers. So, if your writing class or workshop is not designed to remove Writer's Block forever, it's not good enough. The problem with Writer's Workshops, even the more famous ones, is that they are not designed to remove Writer's Block. As Critters Workshop (critters.org) makes it plain how it does it, many a Writer's Workshop is in a fact a session with a critic, or a phalanx of critics, and whose interest do you think those critics represent? Writer's Block. Oh, I know critics are good for the books, but not for the writers.
I've published a handful of books myself, and for that I'm glad I've neither been to a Writer's Workshop anywhere in the Philippines, nor submitted my book to a critic's scrutiny. I've been writing and editing in earnest for at least 34 years, public and private, and so I know that Writer's Block is the common enemy of the creative writer as well as the technical writer. In fact, Julia Cameron's creative technique that she calls 'The Artist's Way' is itself a device to work around Writer's Block, although she doesn't say so (artistsway.com). You find your creative time of day and stick to it. (I'll do it my way.)
In similar manner, Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping technique is designed to do away with Writer's Block, although he may not claim it. You explore the territory of your brain and connect the dots. What Buzan does claim are these (buzanworld.com):
Tony Buzan is the inventor of Mind Maps – the most powerful 'thinking tool' of our times.
A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills - word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color and spatial awareness - in a single, uniquely powerful manner. In so doing, it gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain. The Mind Map can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance.
I have no quarrel with all that. Notwithstanding, what Tony Buzan calls a 'mind map' – implying ideas mapped out – is more accurately called 'a roadmap of ideas' – that is, ideas are connected as roads are in a highway system, and it is impossible to connect the unconnected dots, as it is impossible to construct additional links connecting others to others (see example in mindtools.com). These are all first-class roads, but they are all that we can afford, folks! The human brain works a great deal much more wonderfully than a mind map suggests.
Another metaphor I can give for the Mind Map is that of a huge, fallen, uprooted tree (see image). What you see is what you get! And I want much more creativity than that.
What is clear to me is this: Mind Mapping is a critical thinking tool, and it may well be the most powerful in that category. But critical thinking, which in some other circles is called scientific thinking, is not enough; we need creative thinking too. They are two sides of the same coin; a one-sided coin is a non-negotiable instrument. We need the sciences as well as the arts.
What I'm trying to say is that the most powerful thinking tool of all would have to be both critical and creative. A mind map is of course and always a logical progression, linear, hierarchical, sequential – a mind map is 90% critical and 10% creative thinking. To max creativity, what we need to do is the reverse: 90% creative and 10% critical thinking. We need critical thinking to make sure that ultimately we are making sense with what we have created, but creative thinking comes first and foremost. To be extremely creative, we need a more powerful device than just mind mapping.
I'm speaking from experience. I've been writing since high school more than 50 years ago, and I don't remember ever having Writer's Block. I believe I owe that to the Reader's Digest's inspiring stories, Rudolf Flesch's helpful pieces of advice on how a writer can max his interestingness (to borrow from Flickr) via his Readability Formula, and Edward De Bono's discovery and advocacy of lateral thinking.
Given all that, I have also been an admirer of Henry David Thoreau and his plain advice: 'Simplify, simplify!' The Mind Map is a great attempt at simplifying the act of creativity for everyone, but it's not great enough for me.
It seems I came to know about mind mapping in 2004; my hard disk has an electronic file of an unpublished little flyer selling my expertise in creative writing. Since then, I have been trying to reinvent Rudolf Flesch, Edward De Bono and Tony Buzan all rolled into one. I know creativity has always been a risky preoccupation, but I'm a stubborn man. In this business, you don't have to be crazy, but it works! Sometimes.
This is one of those times. Today I am glad to offer the world The X Card, my brainchild. In fact, I came up with the whole idea of it only today, Saturday, 27 June 2009 Manila time; that's why I have this new blog of mine. And I'm sharing it free, no strings attached. In a little while, I will show you that The X Card is 90% creative and 10% critical thinking. It's simple; there's no software to buy, or book to purchase, no CD to order. Creativity is a gift and, when it comes to gifts, the more you give, the more you receive.
Why do I call them X Cards? Because they are the factor for the unknown, the inviter of serendipity; because you never know what to write on them until the last minute. To show you how Frank Hilario's X Card works, I will compare it with its remote cousin, Tony Buzan's Mind Map. Since I'm in the Philippines, let us assume that the writer, you are interested in writing about Charter Change, Cha-Cha, and as to the main ideas to deal with, you are limited to 12.
Before you do your Mind Map and X Card shuffle on the Cha-Cha of the Philippines, do some background or literature research first; at least, ask some questions. Then you retire to your room, look for little blank index cards, each one to become your X Card – if you can't find index cards, pages from your memo pad should be perfect. On each X Card, write a topic that you want to discuss related to Cha-Cha. So far, so good. Simple, isn't it?
I'll simplify and just give you the 12 ideas with which to use the X Cards and Mind Maps (note that they are listed at random); remember, the focus is on Charter Change:
(10) extension of GMA's presidency
(02) constitutional convention
(06) national referendum
(03) parliamentary system
(11) amendment
(04) constituent assembly
(08) empowerment of local government
(05) people's initiative
(12) revision
(07) economic liberalization
(01) social mobilization
(09) federalism
So, for your Cha-Cha article, you need to fill up 12 of those X Cards. Now, shuffle the cards and look for connections.
Now, at this point, I will show you how The X Card technique is quite the opposite of the Mind Map technique:
With Mind Maps, you begin by drawing a balloon and writing Charter Change on it; then linking it to another balloon and writing the (01) idea on it, then connecting it to another balloon and writing, say the (02) idea on it, and so on and so forth.
So, with Mind Maps, which comes first? The connections. Critical thinking first. So you can connect for a series of 3 links these: (01) with (02) with (03); (04) with (05) with (06); (07) with (08) with (09); (10) with (11) with (12). That makes 4 series. If you connect for a series of 4 links, you make only 3 series.

With X Cards, you begin by writing down one idea on each of the 12 cards. Then you shuffle as many times as you want.
So, with X Cards, which comes first? The ideas. Creative thinking first. You can connect each of the 12 ideas with any number of others, for example:
connect (01) with (02) and (03) - series of 3 links;
connect (01) with (02) and (03) and (11) - series of 4 links;
connect (01) with (02) and (03) and (11) and (06) - series of 5 links;
connect (01) with (02) and (03) and (11) and (06) and (04) - series of 6 links
and so on and so forth.

Note that with each card shuffle has come the winning combination of connections, each combination suggesting another article. From 12 cards, I can make about 57 series of connections, suggesting 57 different articles. Unbelievable? I'll call that The X Card Shuffle; with the shuffle comes magic. Literally, literary. As simple as that. And as beautiful!
Think of all those X Card series you can make. That's what I call limitless possibilities. And it's possible only with The X Card technique of generating new ideas. Using Mind Maps, you get only a max of 4 possibilities for an article.

So, in your article using the X Card approach, you can write about any combination of topics such as:
Argue for Cha-Cha for a shift to a parliamentary system of government through a constitutional convention.
Argue for Cha-Cha for a shift to a parliamentary system of government, insisting on only an amendment to the Constitution and rejecting a complete Charter Change, and thereby rejecting the constitutional convention as a mode of Cha-Cha.
Argue for Cha-Cha with or without a national referendum for a shift to a parliamentary system of government, insisting on only an amendment to the Constitution and rejecting a complete Charter Change, and thereby rejecting the 2 other modes of change: constitutional convention and constituent assembly.
Note that each group of connected ideas suggests one complete article - how can you lose? And in those 3 paragraphs above, we have not tackled the topics of economic liberalization, federalism, people's initiative and so on.

That wasn't hard work, was it? In other words, revising the genius Thomas Alva Edison, if this genius may say so himself, The X Card technique equals genius equals 90% inspiration and 10% perspiration. That is to say, 90% creative and 10% critical thinking. That's max creativity, I dare say. No, it can't get any better than that!
Republished from i to i: Technical Writing, another blog of mine 

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