THE CLASSIC RICO CLUSTER
Write a word. Circle it. Write an associated word nearby. Circle that word, and draw a line back to the original word. Keep going, building up a spider web of word associations, until you see a pattern. When the "trial-web shift" hits, you'll be dying to write it into an essay, story or poem.
CAGEAN CHANCE OPERATIONS
To achieve true randomness, composer-philosopher John Cage said, you must have a plan. Pick out your favorite book, go to every tenth page and write down the first full word on that page. Study your list of random words and see if any patterns come out. No? Pick out your favorite and use it to start a cluster.
THE VAUGHNEAN DOODLE
Draw a series of random lines that intersect like roads on a map (don't think too much). When they begin to assume shapes, throw in some universal facial elements: eyes, mouth, ears, nose. Now study the creature you've created and write down who he is, what he's been doing, how he's feeling—or just use him as the main character in a story.
THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMBOOK
Keep a notepad and pen on your nightstand. Immediately upon waking, write down anything you can remember from your dreams. None of it has to make sense—this is just your right brain's way of processing the day's memories.