Tangential Brains and the Left Turn at Albuquerque

By: Marilyn L. Davis


Writers: Tangential Thinkers and Observers


“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”― David McCullough 


 I think all writers are a particular type of voyeur. All of us:

  • Watch
  • Listen 
  • Absorb the energy of the conversation at the adjacent table
  • Stand in the shadows of the exchanges
  • Record our observations and hope it resonates with readers.

I also think that many of us appear socially awkward because we focus on nearby conversations and not the person in front of us. However, we try in our writing to sound coherent, present, and aware. We can do this because we have the luxury of drafting and then editing, which obviously we don’t have in conversations.

This quote seems to sum up the conflict of interacting and observing: “Writers are first and foremost observers. We lose ourselves in the watching and then the telling of the world we find. Often we feel on the fringes, in the margins of life. And that’s where we belong. What you are a part of, you cannot observe.”― Lisa Unger

How often do you wish you could record all of your observations, still participate in conversations, and then have enough material for a great post? 

Thoughts: Write Them Down


I’m a firm believer in the writer’s notebook, whether it’s a leather-bound journal or your computer. It’s that place where we put random thoughts on paper. 

If you're not keeping a notebook or file, you won't know what thought you had last Tuesday that will work nicely for your piece on Friday. Click To Tweet

Don’t worry about the rhyme or reason for them until you finalize your topic. On Thursdays, I pull together these random thoughts, any observations I’ve made about my niche topics, and take the time to categorize and store them on the computer under “Darlings,” which are not complete unto themselves. But some are sentences or even a paragraph that I know will work for Two Drops of Ink or for From Addict 2 Advocate.

Sometimes these snippets are opposing or contrasting points of view about a topic. But I've found that conflicting choices produce some excellent writing. Click To Tweet

Reviewing the Snippets


When you review these odds and ends, ask yourself:

  1. Did you write what you know or take a stab at another genre?
  2. Is this just a rehash of previous topics?
  3. Is this a different slant on a favorite subject?
  4. Did this random thought contribute to a better understanding of the topic?
  5. Is your passion evident in this passage?
  6. Did one thought or feeling prompt additional ideas?

Humans, and that does include writers, can think tangentially. Although in the extreme, it is a mental health condition, that ability to find seemingly random associations and create a compelling piece has helped many of us take our ideas and create interesting stories and essays. 

Let your mind wander from one fact to the next and see where it takes you. Click To Tweet

How Pondering a Desk Prompted a Memory


“Pondering is a little like considering and a little like thinking, but looser. To ponder, one must let the facts roll around the rim of the mind’s roulette wheel, coming to settle in whichever slot they feed pulled to.” ― Christopher Moore,  Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings 


Ponding comes naturally to some of us. While cleaning an antique desk the other day, I thought it was walnut, but I wasn’t sure. Just thinking that it might be walnut reminded me of my Uncle Alva’s walnut grove. There were probably about 20 black walnut trees growing in that one area of his back forty acres. Each year we would put on our gloves to harvest the nuts. Unlike some other varieties, black walnuts had to be cured, so there wasn’t an immediate treat. 

In fact, most of what Uncle Alva taught us about the woods seemed to be a lot of hard work; then we’d have to exercise what little patience children have and wait for the rewards.

Not only did he have a walnut grove, but he tapped his maple trees as well. The wait for the snow candy didn’t seem as long as the wait for the walnuts to cure and enjoy in a black walnut cake, either. 

So, how did my associations get me to a memory of Uncle Alva and the walnut cake and snow candy? 

I let one random question take me from walnut desk to walnut grove, to learning about the woods, to reflecting on the lessons and wallah – I’ve got a piece.

That's how tangential thinking works; one thought generates another, which in turn produces a third. Writing is taking those parts and assembling them into an interesting piece, or example in your blog or article. Click To Tweet

I Didn’t End Up Where I Thought I Was Going


When I started this piece, it was about the writer as an observer, and while I still think that is true, I realize that I’m heading elsewhere. But is that where I want this article to go? 

If you find your writing is going in a different direction than you intended, you have three choices:

  1. Continue down the yellow brick road and visit Oz.
  2. Reign yourself in and get back on track. This might mean removing whole passages and saving them in your darling file. If you wrote it once, it might have worth for another piece.
  3. Determine if you’re still on the right track, and if you are, you may just need to stop and explore a variation on your theme for a few hundred words.


I think about poor Bugs Bunny; always trying to get to New Mexico and lamenting, “I KNEW I ‘shoulda’ [should have] made ‘dat’ [that] left ‘toin’ [turn] in ‘Albakoikie’ [Albuquerque]”).

Some of us think we know where we’re going on a piece, only to be distracted by a secondary idea about our topic and decide that we should explore it. 

I will sometimes change font color and one idea is written in black, the other in blue. I give myself permission to go in multiple directions and decide which end destination makes more sense or is the more informative read on the topic.

Sometimes, writing is improved by the texture and nuances that ancillary information provides the readers. Click To Tweet

Depth, Breadth, or Somewhere In-between? 


We always have the choice to write from breadth or depth in our pieces, and sometimes that left turn determines the focus. So, how do you know if you’re still engaging the reader? Well, you don’t. But if the additional information has merit, they are probably still with you.

Again, I wanted to write about writers as observers, but isn’t it correct to let you know how observation of the desk led me to snow candy and then to Bugs? It’s the stories and personal experiences of the writer that often help another see that their line of thinking has worth.

Didn’t Take the Left Turn? Then Join Us


Two Drops of Ink is more than a site for me to write. Part of my job as the editor-in-chief is to encourage other writers to view it as a growing community of poets, novelists, and bloggers who share their ideas, show us how they see the world, and offer advice on better writing.

When we are exposed to the various ways that writers use their talents to convey information, our perspectives are broadened as well.

When we get to see another perspective, we may go off on a completely different tangent as a result of the prompt, which means that it didn’t matter that we missed the left turn in Albuquerque; we got to see another side of an issue.

Your words will touch another in ways that I can’t because how something is said is just as important as what is said. 

That’s not a negative assessment on how I write, just the simple fact that each of us writes in our voice, style, and tone and readers will respond differently to those choices even when the topic is the same.

We encourage you to submit and expand the choices that our readers have.


Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing



    • Hi, Aaron. Thank you. It is those left turns that sometimes allow a new character or idea to come into view as a writer. I think when we believe that we’re at a dead end, we just need to quit staring at the screen and let out brains go off on a tangent and see what develops from that pause.

  1. Just stumbled on this while I was waiting for a distraction to jump start my day. It seems as if I have decided today will be without merit. I know that can’t be true. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other and in 30 minutes look back to see where I was and where I am. Thanks for the prompt.

    • Hi, Jon. Thanks for stumbling in. I like that idea of looking back in 30 minutes. Sometimes, we don’t realize all we can accomplish in a few minutes, or at least make a start. Hope your day is productive and joyful, Jon.

    • Hi, Clara, I appreciate the kind words. I think when we share what works for us as a writer, it can help another. That’s what Two Drops of Ink is about, helping each of us improve our writing. Thanks for visiting the site and commenting. That means a lot.

  2. Excellent, excellent, excellent. I’m a non-fiction author, but the key is noticing—writers (all writers) are “noticers.” (And try to avoid words in quotes as much as possible, too.) You have many spot-on statements in this post, but this one struck me as particularly important: “How something is said is just as important as what is said. Your words will touch another in ways that I can’t.”

    With that, I think description is key, but only when it is relevant. One key skill I’ve learned is that readers’ minds will fill in the blanks more often than we assume. I’m not as extreme as Papa H. in my minimalism, but there’s something to be said for those who let the story dictate the path to Albuquerque.

    Great post! Thanks! – DDM

    • Hi, Daniel, what kind words! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Specific to what you liked, I started saying that about other people’s words in 1990 when I opened a women’s recovery home. Some residents couldn’t relate to me, but could to another peer. In the bigger scheme of things, it’s the message that is important, not necessarily who is saying (or writing) it.

      The concept has application for Two Drops of Ink as well. Scott Biddulph, Lydia Oyetunji and I all write about writing, yet we each approach the subject from our perspective and that’s reflected in our choice of words. Some readers gravitate to Scott, others to Lydia, and some find me. In the end, we’ve touched our readers in ways that the other two can’t and vise versa.

      I’ve taken many left turns and sometimes those are the posts that people like, so I guess I’ll ditch the map and just see where the road takes me.

      Again, thank you for commenting.

  3. Hi, Lydia, you’ll have to tell me about Albuquerque some time. I love your posts from the road. You are such an important part of this site and your writing is teaching me a lot, too.

  4. Marilyn, you are correct in this analysis. I often wondered about that right-turn at Saskatoon and where it led, but it is necessary to take the alternative perspective occasionally. Perhaps next time…

  5. I often wonder what the impact is of making that right turn at Saskatoon, but you are correct in saying that it can lead to a different perspective and we often forget to think of the need for an alternative perspective in our wordcraft.

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