The intention of this website is to explore and share techniques for experimental writing. Experimentation in writing can take many forms. The best overall definition I have come across (although it refers to experimental fiction specifically) can be found in the introduction to Groundworks, an anthology of Canadian experimental fiction: [Experimental fiction] "is fiction that sets up it's own rules for itself [...] while subverting the conventions according to which readers have understood what constitutes a proper work of literature."
The standard or 'straight' formulas for creating written works tend to render the structure invisible so that the reader can be more fully absorbed in the plot. In experimental writing, the structure also becomes the subject matter and may prohibit the suspension of disbelief (that non-critical television-like flow state). Why go against the flow? Why "subvert the conventions"?
The author in search of a Voice:
It is probably not coincidental that the abovementioned "Groundworks" anthology contains, in large part, the early writings of authors who later went on to write more conventional novels. First attempts at serious writing are often impeded by the weight of language itself. George Orwell believed the language constructions that we are exposed to condition our experience and expression. This may seem obvious in the use of emotionally charged phrases like "The axis of evil", but the conditioning also occurs through the repeated appearance of seemingly benign stock phrases that "leap to mind". This "leaping to mind", as Orwell describes it, is explained through neuroscience: habitual patterns of behavior are strengthened at the neuronal level through repetition. Repeated exposure to the same phrase will create a strong underlying neuronal predisposition to use the phrase in speech or writing (given the same semantic context). To establish an independent voice, the writer needs to prevent these programmed structures from limiting the range of creative expression. One way of preventing preprogrammed phrases and habitual patterns of expression from finding their way onto the page is to remove conscious intention from the process of composition.
Randomness in experimental writing
Most examples of experimental writing employ some form of randomness or "chance operations". John Cage would typically begin a writing experiment by setting out a predefined system of constraints. Cage's "Diary: How To Improve The World" (from his book X) is a set of daily entries, each comprised of a specific number or words determined by random coin tosses. William S. Burroughs' writing makes heavy use of the cut-up technique: words are snipped from ordinary text and then rearranged either randomly, or according to some intentional pattern. The reordered text, although often semantically incorrect and describing scenarios that do not seem physically possible in this or any other imagined universe, is often charged with an intensity not easily achieved with "straight" writing alone.
Randomness and creativity
Creative thinkers are (by definition) expected to introduce NEW ideas. The degree to which an idea is considered new or unique is directly related to how unexpected it is in a given context. It is not so easy to come up with a unique idea through an act of will or intense concentration: the mind tends to revert to it's old patterned thinking.
Randomness has long been used to jumpstart creativity in many areas beyond writing. In his creative thinking seminars, Edward De Bono instructed business executives to randomly select a word from the dictionary and try to establish some meaningful link between it and the problem or topic at issue. This strategy is meant to promote "Lateral Thinking", where the "train of thought" is derailed from it's linear, well-traveled route to make new connections between concepts or things that were previously unrelated.
Automated Cut-up and word randomization
This site is host to the most advanced text randomization software available: The Cut 'n' Mix Word Machine. Cut 'n' Mix goes beyond the simple random remixing of a small chunk of pasted text to allow mixing of up to four text sources, with additional features to control the size of words processed and how they are combined from each input file. To download, or read more about Cut 'n' Mix [click here].