In the last article, we talked about finding something to focus on. It’s critical to have that theme, that point for the entire article to hang on.
The next step is to figure out what you’re going to say. This can be another very challenging and even frightening part of writing. I do it in two steps: Brainstorming and then organizing. The two steps work together very well in a sort of right brain/left brain kinda way. The creative side of me throws out lots of ideas of what to say, then the structured part of me makes sense of it all. Let’s take a look at those two separately.
An easy and uncomplicated way to brainstorm is to do what I call a “Brain Dump”. Call up a blank page in your word processor, or an empty sheet of paper if you like, and think for a minute about your topic. Then, start writing. When you’re doing a brain dump, you write anything that pops into your head. You don’t care if it even makes sense, or is in any particular order. While you’re thinking about your topic, just spit it from your mind to the page.
You may find yourself branching off here or there. That’s fine, follow it. Go with it and see what sort of things it makes you think of.
Don’t be afraid to do any of this, because at this point you’re not writing your article. It could well be that none of these sentences even end up in your finished product. Hopefully, a lot of the ideas will, though.
Another good brainstorming technique is something I call, “The Best Friend”. This is where you imagine that you’re sitting across your kitchen table from your best friend. You’re relaxing and chatting. You both have a cup of whatever you each like to drink and maybe a bowl of whatever you like to snack on. You start telling him or her about your topic. In your mind, words start flowing out of your mouth.
Write those words.
It might not come out smooth, your grammar may be lousy, and it might be scatterbrained, but what’s important is that the ideas will come out.
I once worked with a man who had real troubles writing. I suggested that he actually sit with a friend, record what he said, and then write it down afterward. Hey, whatever works for you, ya know? These are all ideas, and you can try them and see what you like.
A third suggestion is a little more formal, but can work for some people. That’s simply starting at the top of the page and listing all the things you want to mention in your article. “I’m going to talk about THIS, and cover THAT, and then I’ll mention this OTHER THING…” It doesn’t have to be in order, and it doesn’t have to work yet, but it does help you get thoughts out.
All of these techniques have one major bonus: They all break up that evil “Blank Page” we talked about last time. The page is already covered with writing. It’s not a barrier any more. That can get things flowing and moving forward.
Once you’ve gotten some ideas on your page, the next step is to figure out which ideas to use and some sensible way of presenting them.
Choosing them is fairly simple. You look over all the ideas that you’ve splattered all over the page, and you start to pull some out. Some will jump out at you as if they’re more interesting. Others will be a more important part of the topic you’re trying to cover. Group these all together. I like doing this on the computer because in most major word processors, that’s easy to do. You highlight the text, then click and drag it to where you want it.
If you’re writing an article that explains how to do something, like this one does, organizing it is fairly easy. You start at one point, and lay out the instructions until you get to another part. Chronological steps are the way to go. Other kinds of articles also fit this pattern. If I were sharing a story or an anecdote with a point, I would tell the story from start to finish, then explain the moral.
If the article is more conceptual, then organization can be a little trickier. You might find that you have several ideas to explain that build up to a completed point, your topic. I find it best to work with the easiest, simplest, least complicated idea first, then get gradually more complex until the final point is made. There are other ways to organize the flow of an article. Just pick a sensible order and stick with it. Jumping from here to there within an article can be confusing.
Sometimes, I find it very useful to actually write out a formal outline, with headers and sub headers and points indented and all. Remember those from high school English? Never thought those’d come in handy didja? These help me most when the article is longer or more involved, but sometimes even simple writings can be best set up with an outline. Remember, though, that the purpose of an outline is to help you, so don’t stress about the little outlining rules. Who cares what you capitalized, right?
Now, with the point of the article, and organized ideas, we’ll move on to the actual writing process, next time.