Friday, November 14, 2014

Getting the Flow of Ideas Started

Ideas are fleeting. If you don’t catch them in time, they’ll likely disappear. Your main source of material is your ideas, so as a writer you need to practice some idea-saving techniques. Granted, not all ideas are worth saving, but if you don’t do something when the idea enters your mind, you won’t know unless you save it.

Get your idea out of your mind and onto paper—any kind of paper. This might be a piece of scrap paper, a used envelope, or a page in an organized notebook. It really doesn’t matter, just as long as you write your ideas down. Above all, look for ideas that are ripe with meaning for your reader—not yourself.

The are two main methods for developing those bits of concentrated thought. The first is
brainstorming. This method uses word associations to develop lists of words that get more detailed as you go.

To begin, start with one word, preferably a noun. Under this word, list five to ten words that come to mind that are related to that word. Now take a word from that list and place it at the top of the page, then repeat the procedure from before. After completing the second list, repeat the whole process a third time so that you have three lists. Now look carefully at the original word and compare it to the last word in the third list. Notice how far removed or not it is from your original idea.

Brainstorming helps to empty your brain of related ideas. While you may not use any of the words you produce, some of them may spark new ideas of their own.

The second method for developing ideas on a subject is clustering. To begin, choose a word, again preferably a noun, and place it in a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Free associate branches of words fanning out from the center, each encircled and connected by a line to the original word. Some of the words you’ll come up with are details of words you have already, so place them in a circle connected by a line to the secondary word or subject that branches off from the original one. Let evocative words on the branches be nuclei for other branches.

Clustering enables you to develop groups of words on topics related to the main subject in the middle of the page. In this way, you’ll be able to focus your subject down to a narrower level.

And even though you generate lots of ideas, focusing them down so they’re manageable is important. To do so, you can start with the broader subject, then focus it down to a central idea which, in turn, can be focused even more to detailed questions that will help you decide exactly how you want to write about the subject. Remember, a subject is the broader term, a topic is what you write about.

For example, begin with the subject “holiday.” Under your Central Idea, list “Thanksgiving.” Finally, under Detailed Questions, try “ What are some Thanksgiving traditions?” Notice the difference between subjects and topics.

But to begin writing, you need to have more than a question. You need to have a Topic Statement, a simple statement about what your finished piece will be about and what it will try to accomplish on your given topic. Using a Topic Statement will help you achieve consistency in your writing.

You can take this focusing procedure one step further. While you’re at it, why not list as many detailed questions as you can think of concerning your Central Idea, in this case Thanksgiving. But what about a different Central Idea, say Christmas. Now you can do the same thing with a different holiday. And the list is endless.

Most writers have an idea and begin to write about it before developing it, not fully developing all its potential. You’ll soon discover it pays to do so.