By: Marilyn L. Davis
“The true writer, the born writer, will scribble words on scraps of litter, the back of a bus ticket, on the wall of a cell.” ― David Nicholls, One Day
Start with the Idea
People write for many reasons, some tell stories, some educate, and the gifted writers enchant us.
The ideas and images crowd the mind of most writers, all vying for attention. Some are just the random musings; the overheard conversation at the next table that sounds just like your protagonist, others are reflections on your life for the memoir, or your latest breakthrough moment on how to write better.
We tend to wake up thinking about what to write, or we’re trying desperately to remember that 3AM title, or continue with the middle of the night inspiration.
One way to make sure that you don’t forget that great idea, or remember to research an interesting topic is to carry a notebook, pad or laptop. Since these are often just random ideas, what can you do with them to produce a great post, series, or book?
Expand the Idea
Once you’ve decided on the topic, what is a good way to develop it?
- Think about where the idea came from – a look, a passing remark or a passage from a book?
- What do you know about this topic? Are you an expert in the subject?
- What experiences can you write about that lends a new voice to the topic?
- Why are you focused on this idea or topic as opposed to all the others clamoring in your mind for attention? This gives you an idea of the importance to you and sets an emotional tone.
These are all important considerations when you decide to write that next article. Each of the four developmental prompts help you move forward. One way to start developing your post is to think of subheadings or sections and brainstorming aids in this process. Although we usually think of brainstorming in groups, this is solitary brainstorming and house cleaning rolled into one.
Write down every word that you associate with your idea. Clear your mind of all the words and phrases that you connect to this idea or topic.
Some people find this easier if they have categories for brainstorming, similar to having others prompt or spark the imagination in group brainstorming. Write for five to ten minutes; scribble away and jot it down. The key factors:
- Write everything that comes to mind
- Do not judge the associations
Do not go back and correct your writing, even the spelling at this point, regardless of the red underlining or the annoying green grammar alerts. Learn to ignore these disruptions in the process if you are brainstorming on a computer, or simply turn off these features. They will hinder the process of free association.
When you finish, quickly review your brainstorming and start some Freewriting. You have your brainstorming ideas and a general sense of what you want to write about; now it is time to begin putting your perspective into a draft. Freewriting is also helpful if you’re experiencing writer’s block. Too often this block is because we want to publish a post; Freewriting doesn’t impose that restriction and allows us to simply write words at this point, without an end objective in mind. Again, time yourself for five to ten minutes; writing without editing or stopping.
Another technique that helps get those thoughts on paper is looping. I like the way that Andrea A. Lunsford, author of The Everyday Writer describes looping as “A kind of directed freewriting that narrows a topic through a process of five-minute stages or loops.”
With looping, you write as much as you can in five minutes and then take what works, has merit and reflects your authentic voice. Leave the rest for another article, series or book. Looping helps cull the valuable for an article from the rest that might work elsewhere.
When you have too much material, but a particular aspect of the topic interests you, take that word, brainstorm, freewrite, or cluster on that aspect.
Clustering is the associations created from a particular word.
When I was writing my memoir, I also started a post for Two Drops of Ink on the process of memoir writing. Instead of just one post, I ended up with several, expanding on one aspect of memoir and thus created a series of posts about the topic.
Brainstorming, looping, and clustering also allow you to see if your post would present better from the perspective of breadth or depth. Again, my memoir posts reflect the in-depth perspective on specific aspects of memoir. Without the pre-writing exercises, I would not have created them.
Those particular posts were the result of clustering, as I ended up with too much for just one post, and the specific aspects of memoir each merited an in-depth post. When you allow yourself to simply write, you might be surprised at what you create.
Idea, Post, Series, Book
All of theses exercises in prewriting start with one idea. The beauty of writing is that when we expand, by whatever method, on that original idea, we can create a post, series, or in some cases, the book. With these few prompts, your written ideas might merit and gain you:
- A thumbs-up or like
- A follower
- A re-blog
- A subscriber
- A re-tweet
- A guest post offer
- An agent
- A book signing
See, what a little association can produce?
But there’s one other benefit that might happen; I’ll get a comment from another writer, letting me know that something was beneficial to them.