By: Marilyn L. Davis
Writers: Tangential Thinkers and the Meandering Brain
“Divergent or tangential thinkers like to go off on tangents. They’ll take the meandering route, rather than the tried and trusted straight and narrow approach. If you are a divergent thinker, you are more likely to be a good storyteller or creative writer.” ~Learning Mind
I think all writers are a particular type of voyeur. All of us:
- 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, editing, and then revising, which 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 be fully engaged in the conversation and yet remember enough to have great material for a post?
Thoughts and Observations: 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 and observations 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.
Don’t worry about the rhyme or reason for jotting them down until you finalize your topic. On Thursdays, I pull together these random thoughts, any observations I’ve made about my niche topics, and then 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.
Reviewing the Tangential Thoughts
When you review these odds and ends, ask yourself:
- Did you write what you know or take a stab at another genre?
- Is this just a rehash of previous topics?
- Is this a different slant on a favorite subject?
- Did this random thought contribute to a better understanding of the topic?
- Is your passion evident in this passage?
- Did one thought or feeling prompt additional ideas?
Going from Here to There: The Tangential Brain
All people can think tangentially. Although it is a mental health condition in the extreme, 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.
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 cure, so there wasn’t an immediate treat.
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 snow candy’s wait 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, learn about the woods, reflect on the lessons, and wallah – I’ve got a piece.
That's how divergent or 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? When we find that our writing is going in a different direction than we intended, we have two choices:
- Continue down the yellow brick road and visit Oz.
- Reign the post in and get back on track which might mean removing whole passages and saving them in the darling file.
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 the font color with one idea 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, we improve our writing by various textures and nuances that the ancillary information provides the readers.
Depth, Breadth, or Somewhere In-between?
We can choose 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 writer’s stories and personal experiences 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. We broaden our perspectives when we read the various ways other writers convey information.
When we get to see another perspective, we may go off on a completely different tangent due to 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 I say something might not resonate with readers, so how something is said is just as important as what is said.
That’s not a negative assessment of 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