Isolated Writing? Then Brainstorm, Loop, and Cluster

 

By: Marilyn L. Davis

Writing In Isolation

 

COVID means fewer social or professional interactions with people, and some writers are struggling with getting their ideas written into a workable post. Even without feedback, there are techniques you can use to develop your post. I’ve discovered that brainstorming, looping, and clustering work without interactions with others. 

 

Start With The Idea 

 

You’ve got your idea and what to tell a story, share your knowledge, or write because it’s your job, but you’re uncertain if it has merit. I’ve often said, “I’ve got an idea,” and then used friends, colleagues, and people in groups to see if they’d be interested in a post about the topic. Now, I’m left to wonder in isolation. But I’ve been inspired to write about a particular topic. 

Inspiration does not matter; it’s the writer’s job to build on it. So how can you do that without feedback, encouragement, or nudging from others? Think about these:

  • What do you know about the topic? 
  • Why are you focused on this idea instead of all the others clamoring in your mind? 
  • Where were you when you got this idea? 
  • Did you read a passage in a book that jiggled and nudged a memory for you?

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Developmental Prompts

 

Once you’ve decided on the topic, what is an excellent way to develop it? Ask yourself the questions you’d expect others to ask. 

  1. What do you know about this topic? 
  2. Are you an expert on the subject?
  3. What experiences can you write about that lends a new voice to the topic
  4. Why are you focused on this idea or topic?
  5. How can you write about the topic that adds new information, focuses on a specific aspect of the subject, or bring personal stories about the topic so that readers want to stay engaged? 

These questions, and your answers, give you a sense 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 five developmental prompts helps you move forward. 

 

Brainstorm

 

We usually think of brainstorming in groups; however, this is solitary brainstorming. Write down every word or phrase that you associate with your idea.  Some people find this easier if they have brainstorming categories, similar to having others prompt or spark imagination in the typical group setting.  

Brainstorm for five to ten minutes. The key factors are:

  • Do not edit
  • Don’t judge a response

Take these random associations and begin freewriting. 

 

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Create That First Draft

 

Freewriting is taking those brainstormed ideas and creating sentences and paragraphs without editing. Time yourself for five to 10 minutes and write. Again, don’t edit or judge.  While your brainstorming produced words and phrases associated with your idea, these significant associations can become your subheadings. 

Now that you’ve got a few sentences, paragraphs, or random musings, try looping these ideas. 

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Loop

 

We’re all familiar with “Write, revise, repeat,” which is a type of looping. So taking your newest draft, your loop is, “idea, write, reflect.”

Reflection helps cull the valuable for an article from what may have use elsewhere. Put the overflow into your darling file.  

There’s another loop that occurs for many of us at this point. We can develop the original, brainstormed idea, or we may find that a tangent is more exciting and develop it into a post, using clustering. 

 

Cluster

 

Clustering is a prewriting technique similar to brainstorming, where relationships between words, phrases, or concepts intersect. Remember those parts that did not work; clustering uses those to help you create sub-pages or elements of a series or even the book from your original topic.  

 

 

See Where You Can Go

 

When I was writing my memoir, I was researching memoir as a topic and started a post for Two Drops of Ink on memoir writing. Instead of just one post, I ended up with seven posts, expanding on one aspect of memoir per post, thus creating a series of posts about the topic. Without the benefit of prewriting, brainstorming, looping, and clustering, I would not have created them. These writing techniques allowed me to write from an in-depth perspective on particular aspects of memoir writing.  

But all of those posts started with one idea.

Got an idea? Then brainstorm, freewrite, loop, and cluster. With these techniques, your written idea might get you:

  • Thumbs-up or likes
  • Followers
  • A re-blog
  • Subscribers
  • Retweets
  • Guest post offers
  • An agent
  • A book signing

See, what a little association can produce?

 

The next time you’re inspired, brainstorm, loop, and cluster. Repeat. And when you’re finished? Then consider sending it to Two Drops of Ink as a guest post. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 comments

  1. This is great! I have also started to experiment with using my smart speakers at home or my phone to record ideas that I have when doing things in the kitchen, showering, driving, etc.

  2. Thanks for sharing these great ideas, Marilyn! I’m currently planning on blogging more frequently and these techniques will definitely help me write a more regular basis.

    • Hi, Maya. I’m glad that you think some of these will help you. Come back and let me know which worked best for you. That way, we’re all learning and teaching. Thanks.

  3. Hi Marilyn, one part of your post that stood out to me was having gathered information for one article resulting in enough information to write and expand on another one. Eventually you have enough content to refer back and loop like you said.

    My scribble pad of choice are time cards and offering envelopes. 🙂

    • Hi, Terry. And here I thought I was the only one to ask for more napkins. My dad travelled used them in the ’60’s, and I find them valuable still.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. David Nichollsism, sorry. It is late here. I must go to bed before my brain starts thinking of ideas. I completed another short story yesterday that I’m about to submit, so my mind is on that creative streak. But clearly I need to sleep, before I start mixing up any more completely different writers 😉 Night all. Good post, Marylin.

  5. Completely guilty of David Mitchellism. I have envelopes/receipts/bank statements/napkins/whatever-was-to-hand everywhere with bits of writing on them. I’ve even written things on my hands when out and about. It can be an observation, a line, a name, sometimes even a diagram!

    Note to middle-of-the-night scribblers: read back what you wrote immediately in the morning and rewrite it again more neatly, Yes, I am talking to myself. My handwriting is like hieroglyphics and it’s even worse in the middle of the night when I’m fumbling for my notepad and trying not to wake my partner.

    Also, add a couple more details of what you were thinking about of you can. Middle-of-the-night inspiration can be like dreams – forgotten unless you remind yourself of it as soon as you wake and recall and write down the context fully.

    • Hi, Beth. Rest. I try to make it a habit to read all those scraps of paper that make it to my purse-sized writer’s notebook. Sometimes, it’s a random conversation, others, it’s that spark of an idea or title. Glad I’m not the only one.

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