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Write Your Head Around This




This is a brief but informative and hopefully enlightening article on using your senses to help with your creativity. I highly recommend that if you're open-minded and looking to make your storytelling feel a little more adventurous and expressive, you try this and see where it takes you.



There is an uncommon neurological phenomenon called Synaesthesia, where to trigger the senses, emotions, or certain cognitive functions (memory or problem solving), causes an automatic triggering of other senses or cognitive functions.

Imagine a crazy world where the sound of somebody's name, or a word, left a specific taste in your mouth. Imagine that numbers caused you to hallucinate colours, or that memories triggered smells. What if music caused you to see auras around people?

The phenomenon that is synaesthesia comes in so many forms that some experts in the field believe that we all experience a level of it. Misophonia - the disorder that causes sounds to cause feelings of stress, agitation, fear, and anger - is becoming more prominent with the rise in depressive and anxiety disorders. This disorder, although not yet classed as a form of Synaesthesia, is still suspected of being so.

But although we each experience instances similar to these examples, by the power of association and familiarity we react voluntarily. Sometimes we have difficulty controlling our voluntary reactions, and unless the colour red is going to turn you into a raging bull, I don't think we need to worry about becoming incontrollable beasts because of the sensory input that we're bombarded with on a daily basis.

It's a highly fascinating subject to get involved in, and it was the basis behind a series of creative exercises that I designed over the past half a year, to help people to unlock memory and creative potential, but also to seek a different way of thinking. I probably should have expected that it would also lead to new styles of writing for some of those who took part; myself included.

The human senses are a wonderful thing, aren't they? Where would we be without the ability to see dog shit before we can smell it underfoot?

Okay I'll look for a more pleasant approach...

The human senses are a wonderful thing, aren't they? They really allow us to enjoy the simpler things in life, like the smell of fresh air and burnt ozone after a thunderstorm, or fresh cut grass on a sunny day. The way smell rises with heat, and you wake up to the smell of bacon suspended in the still air of your bedroom on a Saturday morning; it sort of rouses you with a hunger for the day itself.

The sound of birds chirping, music playing, fire crackling, water running along a peaceful stream, it makes this savage world beautiful. Just one sense alone can turn a life of shit into a divine work of art.

And of course we have our eyesight, with which we can see colours, textures, light and illusions. We have the power of touch, and I don't think I need to tell you the things that touch can do to us - not here of all places. And let's not forget both the immense pleasure and disgust that taste can cause.

Without our senses, I doubt we'd be here. They're as preservational as they are pleasurable. But it's easy to take them for granted, especially in the modern day metropolis where all of our senses are constantly bombarded with experiences that vary in distinction and quality. More often than not, we're now experiencing quantity over quality.

We often switch off to avoid confusion, with so much info bouncing around (and little of it useful at all) - an undeniable contributing factor for the continual rise of social anxiety - and we go from living in a perpetual echo chamber of sensory input, into a state of self-imposed sensory deprivation.

The result: our sentinel intelligence becomes mute. Other senses may even suffer for the lack of their observational partners. Still, we don't try harder to compensate for the senses we dull, because we don't want to be bombarded by so many experiences at once.

If only we could concentrate on one sense at a time. You'll be surprised how everything comes alive, what the arousal of a single sense can do for the human mind. And this is the basis for my exercise.

So when, dear reader, was it last that you consciously exercised your individual senses?



Aromatherapy traditionally involves the use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils for healing practices and cosmetic improvements. It isn't restricted to flowers and oils. Incense is a commonly enjoyed form of aromatherapy the world over, and not just to hide the stink of weed in teenagers' bedrooms. And beyond aromatherapy, everybody has a favourite smell and a reason behind it!

Of course maybe the very use of the word Aromatherapy for this exercise is not totally definitive. The only use of aromas here is to trigger memory, emotion, and imagination. If the use of a certain aroma triggers the need to arouse another sense, then I would suggest you go with it, so long as it doesn't run the risk of arrest and imprisonment...

Don't know why I felt the need to add that, but there you go. Just in case, I suppose.

The object of the following writing exercise, if you choose to give it a go, is to try to associate as much as you can with a single aroma. If you have a friend or a significant other who would like to join you in this exercise, that'd be even better. When people feel the need to explain in depth what they associate with a smell and maybe why, it ups the ante for more provocative thought.

It could be that any one thing you choose for its aroma evokes thoughts of something that seems completely unrelated, but isn't that where your creativity finds greater challenge?



The last time I partook in this writing exercise I had at my side a cotton wool pad laced with pine oil. A particularly pungent scent, pine oil at first bears the scent of the tree it's derived from, but when your sense of smell becomes accustomed to it, and all the while roused by it, you begin to smell undertones of other things.

I found myself associating also with the strong odour of dirt, heat and sweat, making me think of saw mills and soldiers climbing mountains in the heat of late springtime. I smelled decay which made me think of abandonment and nature's savage and deadly cycle.

In the end I wrote a poem about the end of wartime, when violence and industry recedes and nature consumes all once again. It was pretty dramatic but with an air of acceptance and peace. It not only related to what I could smell and the feelings that sense evoked, but also the shapes and textures of the human machine versus immortal nature's silent and stealthy explosions of life where there seemed none left.

Even if I wasn't anywhere specifically in memory, the aid of that one sense alone carried me. I wrote with little trouble, but with a great hunger for adventure.



Take yourself a pen and a piece of paper so that you can write down whatever springs to mind. Maybe it'll be a small list of single words, or maybe a list of descriptions. It doesn't matter how you do it. The first part is essentially just morse code!

I highly recommend getting yourself a bottle of aromatic oil. There are so many to choose from and they're relatively inexpensive for what they are. But of course you don't have to, because anything with a strong smell that you can have to hand, you can use.

Maybe you have some spices in the kitchen that you could sniff at all day long and never get tired of. I feel the same way about cinnamon. Tea and coffee also have a special place in my heart, as does petrol for some strange reason.

Orange peel, dried lavender, leather, fresh cut wood chips, a clean ironed item of clothing - the ball is in your court as to what you choose to smell for this exercise. Take it to your table and study its smell. Close your eyes and let come what will come. What does your sense of smell evoke? Write it down...

How does it make you feel? What does it make you want to do? Where does it take you? Does it evoke a person you once knew, or a character?

It could be that you come up with a multitude of things, triggering more than just memories, or feelings, but a whole world up there in your head that you hadn't considered. Or maybe there's a seemingly simple memory that brings its own emotional baggage.

Keep sniffing whatever it is that you're sniffing. But please don't get too high. You need to be sharp for this, and I think you'll find that as your senses and your sensibilities come alive with the experience, so will you.

Next you're going to take fifteen minutes to half an hour to write whatever comes. You should find it easy to just go with the flow and to let whatever is being written write itself. These things do take over. They just need a little help along the way.

If you stall, take another dose and keep at it. No matter if you don't finish by the end of your writing session, pay attention to what you have written and see what's different about it to what you might normally have done.

This compulsive approach to creative writing is a great little exercise, plenty of fun, and lets your inner creator put the perfectionist ego on the back shelf for a while. I certainly benefited from that, as I'm very conscious of what I write for the sake of entertainment, to the point where I often spend too long, in vain, trying to cater for some projected audience that doesn't necessarily exist; or if it does, one that judges more than the audience that I have acquired so far.

Good luck, have fun, and don't try too hard. Follow your intuition and your instincts, or in this case, simply follow your nose and see where it leads you!



What does the sense of smell have to do with creativity, do you suppose? I'd like to hear your thoughts after you've tried this exercise. Personally, as a man for whom environment and atmosphere are important, my sense of smell stands for many things.

I'm grounded by my sense of smell. It has emotional weight as well as the ability to be tantalised and aroused. When I smell something bad, I show not only distaste but sometimes even wonder if I smell danger or uncleanliness. Smell provides identity to people and places.

As far as fantasy goes, any fictional world you create is not just a moving picture with sound. It has dimensions and one of those dimensions is smell, which allows your readers to relate and to bring the story to life via their own personal connotations.

And as you may well have discovered here, you can write a whole story based on a single sense, without it having anything to do with the context; in fact without having done anything other than providing an open door into your own mind.

I know, we forget so easily what's up there sometimes!

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