"Moodling"

“The Imagination works slowly and quietly.” —Brenda Ueland

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” —Franz Kafka

If you have tried all the above methods and feel comfortable letting your imagination wander and play with odd ideas without immediately discarding them, then you may be ready to try “moodling.” In fact, if you typically use brainstorming, then you probably do a bit of moodling between ideas anyway.

The etymology of the word "moodle" is unclear, but it was used in the early 20th century to essentially mean dawdling and frittering away time while letting your mind wander and chew on thoughts in a relaxed way. In Brenda Ueland's formulation (If You Want to Write), it basically means daydreaming with a pencil in your hand—you can do it on a computer, but I think it is more productive with the added quiet of pencil and paper—and not forcing yourself to write anything until you are moved to do so.

Again, this method tends to be useful for more experienced writers who already know they won’t immediately discard odd ideas and who are very patient. And yet it can sometimes produce some of the most interesting, innovative ideas of any of the methods.

  • Give yourself an hour or more;
  • Sit at your desk, preferably in front of a window, with pen or pencil and paper (or computer);
  • Remind yourself of your topic;
  • Then just sit there. Do not force anything. Only write a word when you feel like it. (If you don't feel like it, don't.) It can be on topic or off topic; if you are moved, write. Do not sleep or do your math homework (unless that is what you're moodling about—see MIT Physics Prof. Alan Lightman's In Praise of Wasting Time).
  • Do not worry about grammar, naturally, unless, of course, you think of a great phrase or sentence that you want to preserve;
  • Do not worry if you don’t write a single word for even a whole hour. You are still priming the pump of your imagination, letting the dust of life settle and gaining access to your deepest levels of mind and creativity. You are still working, as Ueland reminds us, and what you chewed on today will show up brilliantly on another day. If you haven't been giving yourself this kind of quiet time, it may take you a few days of writing nothing to want to write something. As Ueland also warns, though, if you eventually are not writing anything because you are afraid or otherwise "stuck," you probably need to just push yourself to write.

I find that when I moodle for an hour one day, I sit down and words fly out of me the next. And it has produced some of my most creative, original ideas, one of which prompted my graduate school classmates to cry, "How did you think of that?!" 

Happy moodling.