When you’re sitting there wondering what to do next…
The hardest part of writing is creating your opener. Instead of starting a new piece at the beginning, why not let your opener evolve naturally? After you’ve completed your first draft, go back and read from the top. Most writers find their real opener 100 to 150 words into the piece. Like a runner warming up for a race, most writers don’t hit their stride in those first few paragraphs. Dump (or move) those early words and you might be surprised at how your piece comes to life.
Better yet, build a skeleton of ideas and logic from the start. It’s easy. Simply record your ideas, one line at a time as they occur to you. Describe your main topic with a word, phrase or temporary topic title at the top of a fresh page or as an outline heading.
Don’t worry about logic or sequence, just record each idea and move on to the next. Each new idea will lead to another and another, dividing your main topic into subtopics naturally.
Let’s call this process text clustering. Your list will gather momentum and mass like a snowball rolling down hill. Let the momentum carry you until you reach the bottom of the hill.
You should see a logic forming as you write. When you do, pause and organize your ideas into a logical structure. Moving ideas around will suggest other ideas and arrangements.
Use only what’s needed to express a single idea. Stay with single words, phrases and sentences until the skeleton and logic of the article (or book) become clear.
Keep at it, moving and adding (don’t subtract anything yet — just move the debris and ideas you aren’t using out of the way to the bottom of the list for now). Once you’re happy with the logic, flesh out your arguments and you will have a finished piece.
The first sentence of each paragraph should set the tone, the idea for the paragraph. When the opening sentence in each paragraph contains the idea behind (and focus for) the paragraph, it’s much easier for your readers (and you) to remain focused. This is especially true for online reading where readers are skipping and scrolling quickly. Keep their attention and they are more likely to read your article.
Use a program like MaxThink (Max) or Brainstorm (BS) that allow you to focus on a single main topic, add subtopics and manipulate your ideas easily. Using a word processor or text editor for this phase is a chore. Block moves are clunky. Max or BS have tools that allow you to rearrange your ideas quickly without fuss.
• Take your main topic and break it down into manageable chunks.
• Enter ideas for the current topic as they occur to you.
• The order of the ideas isn’t important in the beginning.
• You may discover your ‘real’ title as you think and record your ideas.
• Reserve judgment and order. Allow your thoughts to organize themselves.
I used Max to organize the ideas for this article and finished with NoteTab, an excellent text editor I’ve been using for years (I have the pro version). Next time, I’ll use BrainStorm and write a review.
Relax and play with your ideas before you jump into the writing phase. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Don’t be bashful. Stop by and let me know if this article has helped you become a better writer.
PS — The photo is Olivia. She hasn’t started walking yet but this kid crawls on overdrive.