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How to Create Awesome Metaphors... Fast!

When you don't feel creative, use this to trick your brain into being creative anyway.

Metaphors and similes are at the center of much memorable writing, from Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” to pretty much every novel you like, to standup comedy. (“We're not allowed to do anything to nature anymore except look at it. It's like porn with leaves.” -- Dennis Miller) The best metaphors and similes make unexpected, even radical connections, firing off synapses that our brains do not normally engage.

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Creating surprise associations is difficult because our imaginations begin with what is familiar. Try this:  Close your eyes and name the first random object that comes to mind. (Seriously. Give it a try.) For most of you, it will be the last thing you saw, or something related to it.
To create fresh metaphors, try this. Choose some noun—some person, place, thing, or idea—and write it across the top of a page. Then make a list of words or phrases that describe it. For instance:
  • Easy to erase
  • Used for education
  • Can make an awful sound
  • It’s flat
  • No matter how you erase it, there’s always a little left
  • It puts dust in the air
  • You find it in a school
  • It doesn’t wear out for many, many years
  • It often involves young people
  • People use it to teach
  • It looks best in the morning
  • Teachers rely on it
  • It’s being replaced by video
  • It’s going out of style
  • Sometimes you find it in a café
The next step: Consider something you want to write about, such as “love.” Instead of scouring for comparisons, just mine the list you created for something else at random, the list you made just now. It'll take you in unexpected directions. Check it out:
Love Is Like A Chalkboard
  • Love is easy to erase
  • Love is part of learning (used for education)
  • No matter how you erase it, there’s always a little left
  • It doesn’t wear out for many years
  • Everyone sees it in school, and most of us get our hands on it a little (you find it in school)
  • Teachers rely on it
  • It’s going out of style
By attaching the qualities of a random something to the subject you have in mind, the metaphors and similes come from places the logical part of your brain won’t go. You gain a convenient shortcut to creativity. The trick is to think of the random things first -- to trick your brain.

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