You’ve got an idea.
You’ve got some points you want to make. You’ve tried writing it, but it just isn’t working. What do you do?
Organize those ideas.
Get them into a sequence that works. You find out what’s missing and you plug it in. Or you decide what you don’t need take it out.
So let’s take those ideas and work with them.
First, we list those ideas on, say, 3×5” cards, one idea per card. Or you can type them in your word processor, one-line-per-idea, print them out, and then cut them apart so you can play with their arrangement. Or, if you’re using Word, use the Shirt-Alt plus the Up or Down arrow keys to rearrange them on the digital page. We want to be able to move those points, trying different arrangements, quickly and easily.
A piece of writing is a collection of ideas
That’s a key concept. At best, those ideas are interrelated and interconnected. Arranged well, one idea seems to grow out of the one that came before it, and then another and another. Idea A leads to idea B, then C… The whole piece makes sense for your reader.
It’s also important to remember: Writing is a process of addition
You put down an idea, then you add another idea, and then another until your done. (Save the cutting for the revision or re-writing stage.) Certainly a lot of your meaning comes from the words you choose, but the meaning is also communicated by the sequence of ideas. You want to construct them in a sensible and easily understandable flow.
College was stressful at times
I was an English major in college. That meant I had a lot of term papers to write, like all the time. At the semester’s beginning I would go home from my classes stressed—all those papers to write, those deadlines!
How did I get them done on time?
So I would do my research, collect my ideas, then write them down, at that time on a yellow pad (no word processor yet!). Then I would then cut my ideas apart, one idea per clipping. The floor usually worked best. So I would arrange those ideas there, moving the clips of paper here and there, until I got them in a sequence that worked well. Next I pulled out a long strip of clear plastic tape and pressed it down over all those pieces of paper–capturing their order.
Build your writing 3×5 cards or computer
Incidentally, I still use 3×5 cards at times because they are handy to file away. If I decided not to use an idea or two, I could put those cards into a handy file box, indexed so that they’d be easy to find later if needed. I am frequently remembering ideas and hate it when I can’t find them in their original wording.
And with cards, I can number them to preserve their order, usually in pencil in case I change my mind. I change my mind a lot.
Once you have that order nailed down, go ahead and write. Free-write if you like, pushing yourself to write rapidly, getting the ideas on the page, but following your “outline.” Or, go more slowly adding idea to idea carefully and deliberately.
Get a grip
This method helped me crank out those many term papers and also feel like I had a grip on my to-do list.
The next time you have some ideas for a piece of writing, perhaps the thought will occur, “I don’t know where to start.” Give this method of idea-arranging a go. I think you’ll like it.
NOTICE TO MY READERS: Please comment and/or feel free ask questions.
Are there any topics you’d like me to write about on this blog? If so, let me know. I’m open to both fiction and nonfiction subjects.
Other ideas on ways to build your writing
(photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/3643033719/)