By: Marilyn L. Davis
We’ve Always Done Isolated Writing, But It’s Different Now
“The act of writing is generally thought to be a solitary journey from that first awe-inspiring blank page to the end. However, the fact that most authors offer acknowledgments speaks to the presence of a team in the background, offering advice, support, information, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to share a laugh with.”― Jacqueline Winspear, Pardonable Lies
Writing is an isolated and solitary job. It’s you, a blank page and ideas – not much human interaction. And for the most part, we writers like it that way. We can get really annoyed if disturbed by our humans, either in person or the most annoying, a notice on our phone.
A surprising thing happened with COVID: social distancing and fewer in-person opportunities to get together with other writers. We started missing the interactions, feedback, and encouragement about our writing.
Now the solitary pursuit of writing got harder.
I’d Take Isolation: I’m Sharing Space with a Five-Year-Old
Then there’s the writer who is now sharing space with their spouse, pets, and a five-year-old making play dough mountains on the manuscript carelessly left by the printer.
That poor writer doesn’t have anyone to bounce their ideas around with, and they’re struggling with getting their ideas written into a workable post.
Remember: You’re a Writer
This isolated writing is more challenging because it was imposed on us. We didn’t have much choice, and most of us wanted to have some semblance of choice in our activities. However, even without feedback or living with those distractions, you can use simple techniques to develop your posts. I’ve discovered that brainstorming, looping, and clustering work even with my distracting cat, Jackson, and without interactions with others.
Use The Isolation to Rev Up Your Brain
Start with your idea, whether to tell a story, share your knowledge, or write because it’s your job. Still, 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 or frantically checking Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to see if there’s interest – time-consuming and frustrating rolled into one.
But I’ve been inspired to write about a particular topic, with or without comments. 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?
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.
- What do you know about this topic?
- Are you an expert on the subject?
- What experiences can you write about that lends a new voice to the topic?
- Why are you focused on this idea or subject?
- 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 issue so that readers want to stay engaged?
These questions, and your answers, give you a sense of the importance to you and set an emotional tone. These are all essential considerations when you decide to write that next article. Each of the five developmental prompts helps you move forward.
We usually think of brainstorming in groups; however, this is solitary brainstorming. Write down every word or phrase 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.
Mind Mapping is a technique that allows your brain to do its job – associate random words with your keyword topic, subject, or issue, similar in concept to brainstorming. Start with your central idea in the center of the page. Almost immediately, your brain will form an image of that idea.
If I think of writing, I think of the process, and from there, I think of words, phrases, and divergent opinions about writing. Those initial thoughts are first-level associations. But branching off from those first ideas are others. Write then all down and begin writing about your topic.
You can use branches or clusters to jot down your associated words for your topic or idea. Some writers create large mind maps and pin them to their wall when planning a book or large project.
Create That First Draft
Freewriting takes those brainstormed or mind mapping ideas and creates sentences and paragraphs without editing. Time yourself for five to 10 minutes and write. Again, don’t edit or judge. These significant associations can become your subheadings while producing words and phrases associated with your idea.
Now that you’ve got a few sentences, paragraphs, or random musings, try looping these ideas.
We’re all familiar with “Write, revise, repeat,” which is a type of looping. So, taking your newest draft, your loop becomes, “idea, write, reflect.” Reflection helps cull the valuable for an article from what may have application elsewhere. Peter Elbow developed this prompt to take important information from the writer’s freewriting and develop it further. It can sometimes take your writing in various directions, but again, when you revise or edit, you’ll keep what works and save the other for another post, book, or blog.
There’s another loop that occurs for many of us at this point. We can develop the original idea or find a tangent more exciting and develop it into a post using clustering.
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.
Our minds are conditioned to cluster. Dean Buonomano’s book, Brain Bugs, explains how the brain stores information: “The human brain stores factual knowledge about the world in a relational manner. That is, an item is stored in relation to other items, and retrieval [of knowledge] is a contagious process.”
That contagious process means that thinking of one aspect leads directly to another, and another, and so on.
See Where You Can Go While Isolated
When I was writing my memoir, I researched 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, how to write an excellent memoir. Eventually, I was encouraged to write a how-to memoir workbook called Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook.
Got an idea? Then brainstorm, free-write, loop, and cluster. With these techniques, your written idea might get you:
- Thumbs-up or likes
- A re-blog
- Guest post offers
- A published book
- An agent
- A book signing
See, what a little association can produce?
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
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.
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at Two Drops of Ink and From Addict 2 Advocate. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.