Writing Topic: Techniques for Exploring Ideas.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

In the early stages of any writing project, preparation becomes a key element for producing a well-designed, thought-provoking, organized piece. The main stages of writing are planning, drafting, and revising, but a writer must recognize that they may sometimes need to revisit the earlier stages later in the process if the need arises.

While it is possible for a writer to just plug themselves into a first draft and work as they go, the planning stage helps the writer focus on their purpose for the writing situation and helps save time by addressing certain issues in advance. This stage gives writers the opportunity to assess the writing subject, focal points, and information available so they won’t have to circle back to weak points in the piece when in the revision stage.

Here is a general checklist for assessing your writing situation:

I like to think of it as the 6 w’s: who, what, where, when, why, and which.

  1. Subject – The what of your writing situation. What are you going to write about or argue? Do you have a strong thesis and points to back it up?
  2. Purpose – The why of your writing situation. Will your piece be for entertainment, a call-to-action, or just to inform readers. Why is it important or worth reading?
  3. Audience – The who of your writing situation. Who do you want to reach out to most? Gear your language and style to be able to communicate your work to them with ease.
  4. Sources of Information/Research – The where of your writing situation. Where are you getting your information? Personal experience? Library? Internet?
  5. Length and Style/ Requirements – The which of your writing situation. This includes fine-tuning your writing to fulfil the requirements which are expected of you. Depending on your writing purpose you probably need to be aware of the requirements for your piece such as word-count and citation guidelines amongst other things. If this is for a class, review the rubric or syllabus to fit the needs and wants for the teacher.
  6. Deadline – The when of your writing situation. When is the piece due? If there is no due date, try setting a self-imposed deadline.

Techniques for exploring ideas within your writing situation:

There are several techniques you can turn to, and it is best to choose the one that you feel works best for you and your productivity. The main idea here is to generate a plethora of ideas, some which you may not even use, but may be necessary to think about to arrive at a certain concept. Aim for quantity, not quality. By doing this you are not omitting any possibilities and are open to all concepts and new perspectives. Don’t worry about stocking up on ideas you may not need, that are too far-fetched, or broad. You will get the chance to throw them out later if they are not aligned with your goals of the piece.

  1. Browse – When you haven’t settled on a subject yet, it can help to do some “window shopping,” so to speak. Inspiration can come from surprising places! By doing quick searches on the internet or at your local library’s database you can get exposed to concepts that interest you, or find ideas you can compare and contrasts to your own.
  2. Listing ideas –  There doesn’t have to be any formal structure when you jot down your ideas in this technique, and many times you will just find yourself writing down ideas in the order they occur to you. Later you can rearrange it in a fashion that is more organized and remove ideas that seem off the point. I have always found brainstorming a highly essential part of the early stages of a writing project. A lot of times I have arrived at the themes and topics I want to write about by simply writing down the things that come to mind when I think of my subject.
  3. Clustering – This type of brainstorming allows you to form associations between concepts you have for your writing project in a slightly more organized fashion than through listing, but in a less linear format than outlining. To begin to cluster you first must write your main topic in the center of a page and draw a circle around it. Surround the circle with related ideas and draw a line to connect them. Some of the new ideas that surround the main idea will lead to smaller, more specific clusters and continue on until you have exhausted the avenue of the topic until a diagram is created. You would then return to the main topic and see if any other associations can be made, and as you create your cluster you will start to notice a “web” beginning to form. Clustering is a great way to highlight the relationships between concepts to build and expand on in your writing and can also be used as a rough outline. This procedure is also known as visual mapping.
  4. Freewriting – This technique is as sweet and simple as it sounds. Freewriting is simply non-stop, unedited, uncensored writing. You set aside some time to freely express your thoughts on your subject and write whatever comes to you in those moments. The point in this exercise is to keep your pen or pencil moving! More likely than not, you will find an honest opinion, an important expression of emotion, or line of thought worth exploring. Freewriting is hands down one of my most favorite forms of brainstorming.
  5. Annotations – This technique is helpful when you are writing about someone else’s work or doing a research paper. While you read or do research, mark up the text — highlight important passages you would like to explore further or revisit later, write down your questions, thoughts, or summations in the margins so you wont forget points you picked up on, also find moments in the text that were striking ideas which you find you want to emphasize or argue against in your work. I’m sure we hear it often enough, but here’s a quick reminder: don’t forget to use citations when discussing other people’s works and using their ideas!
  6. Creating a Thesis – Once you have thoroughly explored your ideas on your subject, you can begin to see the possible ways you can focus your material. A thesis statement is a sentence formed around your central idea which appears in the introduction paragraph to prepares the readers for the supporting points that will follow in the body of the piece. It is very beneficial to form a thesis statement early in the writing process which can help the writer focus their piece. The thesis statement can always be refined when you get to the final version of your work.
  7. Outline – Obviously I couldn’t leave this one out. A formal outline can keep the writer on track with their ideas and main points, especially if the concepts are complex. In an outline of an essay, the thesis is on top and everything else below it supports it, directly and indirectly. Your outlines will change as your drafts evolve, and it will serve you very well in keeping your ideas organized.

Overall, the early stages of a writing process is one of the most important parts in the development of a piece, and these techniques are sure to help you with the concepts and ideas you wish to deliver in your writing.

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What They Don’t Know

When your plans laugh at you, laugh back.

I was leafing through my notebook today and saw this scribbled in the margin of one of the pages. When I wrote it down or where I got it from I am not entirely certain… but what I am certain of is this: when I wrote this down then, it was meant for me to see this very day. I wanted to pass it on since, perhaps, you were meant to see this today, too.

Sometimes I find myself standing in the shadow of an overwhelming project with a million things to do and no idea how to start. I feel my breathing pick up and my palms begin to get clammy with sweat that I try to wipe away on the fabric of my jeans while I try to stay composed… all while my ambition slips from view. My plans begin to take the form of some kind of unapproachable creature with horns and talons, its head thrown back laughing at my insecurity.

I go cold and tremble with uncertainty as my enthusiasm to tackle the project jumps back into my body like the smallest egg of a Russian nesting doll. Not again…

This time I’ll come prepared. I’ll be ready. This time… I have a secret weapon: Willpower.

Not that I didn’t have willpower before, it’s just that prior to now I was unaware of the advantage I had boiling within me — an advantage that we all have if we understand how to hone it.

Our brain can supply an unexpected amount of willpower when we need it. The key here is to recognize that it’s within you and that tapping into it will help you unleash a potential that will help you succeed at tackling what seems like insurmountable problems. One way to do this is by changing the way you look at things.

Your project is not too big, nor are you or your efforts too small. Establish within your mind that your willpower is unlimited and you can supply yourself the energy to focus on what needs to get done rather than the feeling of insignificance that comes up when you allow your anxieties to get in the way.

Anxiety can be the worst of all enemies to depleting willpower. It expects you to give up and cower away at the first sign of discomfort (the monster project you have in front of you.) But if you puff out your chest and send your anxiety to the corner for a time-out, you will be impressed by the things you can accomplish. When you have an incredible idea for a new project, don’t allow the chance for your new-found ambition to simmer down. Write down a plan as soon as you can before your anxiety decides to take matters into its own hands.

Now… when the anxiety comes from an external force, this is what I learned.

If people laugh at you, do the same. Laugh back. You are every bit as entitled as they. Besides they don’t know about that secret weapon that we have. They don’t realize that we are willing to go the extra mile and that we won’t give up, especially not on account of them. They don’t see that while they are laughing like the donkeys they are, we are growing and learning, being productive. (Hell yeah!)

I have also come up with this theory: those who laugh at you or criticize you for what you are doing may be projecting the insecurities they may have onto you. They may be acting indignantly towards your goals and ambitions because they are afraid of how much you will surpass them.

The secret they don’t know… You already have.

Laugh at writer’s block. Laugh at pain.

Laugh at everyone who said, “You can’t do it.”

Laugh at yourself. (In a good kind of way.)

Gear up with your willpower and go be a doer.

You are getting so much stronger every day.

 

How to Write with Confidence

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” – Suzy Kassem.

Finding confidence in your writing, let alone confidence in yourself, can sometimes be a battle to achieve — But a factor that many writers tend to overlook is that the two go hand in hand. If you have ever experienced that low nagging voice behind your ear that says, “you’re no good” or “just give up already!” I am here to tell you that you are not alone.

That voice of insecurity or fear has been programmed by your mind to protect you from what may cause you harm, and that is how many writers perceive the idea of critiques: something that can be potentially harmful to our egos and to our self-esteem. Something that can either represent our success or failure… but most of the time we assume it will be failure. Something that reflects the societal acceptance or rejection of our blood, sweat, and tears in the form of the piece of writing we slaved away hours on. But are these really rational fears?

Many times fear is the biggest reason some writers never get their ideas on paper. You see the problem? How can you improve your writing if you don’t have faith enough in yourself to get your ideas out!

Today I am going to share with you techniques to silencing that nagging voice for good and help you conquer your fears and self-doubt.

Being confident is a mindset.

  • Be aware.

Changing the way you think about yourself or your writing will require a conscious effort. Our minds are much more flexible than we realize, which makes us all wonderfully complex beings. However, there is a downside to this. With all the elasticity our brain has to offer it also has the tendency to snap right back to old habits and adopt the same unhealthy mind frame that can keep us stagnant and insecure. That’s why awareness is the first step to achieving a more confident outlook on your life as well as in your work.

“Change your habits, change your life.”

What do you need to be aware of?

Subconsciously you could be sabotaging your efforts toward self improvement just with the way you think. Realizing this possibility is entirely frightening, but fortunately, there are ways to stop stunting your growth by reprogramming your mind to block out the negative things it tries to convince you that you are (or are not.)

Train your mind:

  • Positive reinforcement

By paying attention to the patterns of thoughts you tend to have, you can identify the habits you have developed that keep you from reaching your full potential. Once this is identified you can pay more attention to replacing those thoughts with positive affirmations and using it as a shield to protect you from negative ones. YES, this actually does work.

Begin the day with something positive you have to say about yourself or your writing. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am worth it” or “I am a wonderful writer” … “I am better today than I was yesterday, and I will keep getting better”– alter the affirmations to what you feel you are insecure about and Repeat them throughout the day, especially when you feel a negative thought trying to penetrate the new shield you just put up.

Repetition is a key to this process because habits are built by practicing certain behaviors until they occur naturally. Just like exercising a muscle, the more focus you put into a certain area the more you are able to strengthen it.

  • Pay attention to what makes you feel good

It may be the cup of tea or coffee you have beside you when you write as soon as you wake up in the morning, a three-mile run before you snuggle up to a book, or dressing up like your going out even if you plan to just plop yourself in front of the computer and type all day long — whatever it is, do it. Do what makes you feel good and forget whatever else there is to say about it! (Unless it causes you or anyone around you any direct harm, of course.)

This goes for people, too. Surround yourself with people who have a mindset which is driven like yours. People who support you and motivate you rather than individuals who eagerly try to steer you away from what you are aiming for. I find that being around other writers is incredibly inspiring and can be very stimulating for confidence building as well as story writing. (If you don’t know any writers other than yourself, watching YouTube videos of writers talking about their creative process can help you gain perspective and motivation as well.)

  • Celebrate the wins, especially on the bad days

When everything around you already seems to be out of order — missed word-count goals, mishaps with the save button on your computer, the world baring its entire weight on your shoulders — the last thing you need to be doing is kicking yourself when you’re down. Instead of focusing on how hopelessly bad your day (or week) might be going, think of how you felt when you accomplished something spectacular. This thing could be really small, such as organizing your writing area, or huge like receiving an award for something you wrote previously. Once you have that memory, hold on to it. Breathe it in as if you were in that moment again. Get back in that mindset. When you open your eyes you should have a new perspective on the situation that lies in front of you as well as have a clearer visualization of yourself and your true capabilities.

Its important to never punish yourself for what you feel you lack. Writing can be stressful in and of itself without you having to abuse yourself for not writing as well as J.K. Rowling. Recognize that you are different and whatever you produce will be bursting at the seems with your originality. That there is a win. Don’t be afraid to show yourself a little TLC.

Self-realization

  • Understand your capabilities and learn where you need to improve

Skills, knowledge, health, and self-reliance all inspire self-confidence. By maintaining an accurate view of yourself and your abilities you will not need to waste time painting a picture of yourself that is incomplete. No more needless comparisons to more successful writers, entrepreneurs, friends or family members. What good comes of that anyway? They got to where they are because they worked on themselves and that’s exactly what you need to do. Focus on you.

In many ways, we are all works in progress since we all have room to improve. Every day is a day to learn new things, polish up our talents, and progress as human beings. The problem is that many times the thing we seem to search for in ourselves is something we won’t ever reach. Perfection.

Perfection is an illusion set by society and portrayed through media — but it is not really ideal. When we realize that perfection is unattainable we can remove the biggest mental roadblock we could ever set for ourselves. Overall, it is important to learn about yourself in your writing journey. Strengthen your weak points while you take advantage of your assets where you are most strong.

Practice, practice, practice…

Instead of ruminating on the areas you need to work on, feeling bad, and considering the option of quitting, practice your skill. (I’m sure this has occurred to you, but sometimes we need the reminder.) Practice so you can learn to trust yourself and your capabilities. Talking about writing or thinking about writing is not writing! Practice so that you can finish that first draft and learn where you need to improve, and most of all so you can learn that the fears you have of readers ripping up your writing was, after all, an irrational fear to begin with.

Of course, it takes hard work and commitment — but it will all be worth it in the end.

 

How to Set Goals for Your First Writing Project

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In order to accomplish a writing goal, or any goal for that matter, it will require some thought and planning. There are many things I want to do in life, like taking a trip to an exotic destination, (somewhere like the Bahamas would be nice!) but I might never get there if I don’t plan the trip. The same goes for writing. If no goals or plans are set, I might still be saying, “I want to write” rather than brainstorming ideas for my next piece.

While it can be tempting to dive into the deep end when starting your project, there are ways that this can be detrimental to your final product. For one, down the line it can get quite overwhelming and sometimes the outcome can appear convoluted or unfocused. When you start your project with poor planning your ideas may get lost or jumbled up in the wrong places. You may get repetitive or stuck on a half-formed thought having not planned out the direction your piece may take. Setting up a plan helps establish discipline and control while giving you the opportunity to test yourself and your abilities as you compose your masterpiece.

How to plan for success in a few easy steps:

Begin with the end in mind.

Perspective is everything. When you go into a writing project it is very important to make the commitment to follow through to the end and make an action plan to get there

  • Gauge your audience and gear your content toward them.

By understanding your audience and the goals of your prospective project, you will be able to better prepare your piece to suit your expectations. Remembering who you are writing for is one of many keys to recognizing the tones and style you should use when writing. For example, if you need to write a persuasive article for the general audience you wouldn’t want your language to be so filled with complex words or jargon that no one but scholars would understand. It needs to have an appeal and be coherent to everyone. It needs to have the ability to drive the concept home, and this can be manipulated through consciously planning the language used in your article.

  • Establish your word count goal.

Whether its 1,500 words or 15,000 words, knowing how much you need to write is essential in creating an effective action plan. Now, needless to say, everyone’s daily word count goal will not be the same — but not everyone has one. This is where you must make a commitment. By having a clear idea of the total amount of words that need to be written by the due date, you will be able to break them up into attainable goals that will have you stressing less at the thought of the project otherwise. You can start off with 200 words a day and work your way up as you progress in your craft and gain confidence. One day you will be tapping away at the keyboard without even noticing that you have gone over the count you set! The importance of sustained effort and daily routine will improve your work-ethic, self-discipline and willpower.

Organize and develop your ideas. 

  • Brainstorm it out!

Brainstorming, outlining, and visual mapping can help structure your thoughts and help you communicate your ideas more clearly and effectively. This also helps you plan out where to strategically place certain concepts that may strengthen your story, argument, or whatever your piece calls for.

For creative purposes, going in elbows deep with brainstorming allows you decide what types of literary devices you want to use in your craft, like foreshadowing or symbolism. This first step is essential in discovering innovative ideas, breaking barriers, and opening yourself up to the possibilities that your work can encompass.

Equip yourself.

  • Set yourself up for success.

Do your research prior to starting your piece, and educate yourself to the best of your ability. As is always stated: knowledge is power. It will be more difficult to find holes in your plot, setting, arguments or what have you when you have done your homework.

Equipping yourself also means giving yourself the time to do your work. Setting aside an hour a day, fifteen minutes here and another twenty there, or whatever works for your schedule. Other than that, having the resources to write can be as simple as picking up a pen and paper or using the notepad on your cellphone to do your writing.

Action.

  • Execute!

This boils down to one thing: Just do it.

Keep track of your progress.

  • One last emphasis on word count goals.
Deadlines or self-imposed due dates can creep up on even the best of the business. Creating daily word count goals and sticking to them can help guide you through the painstaking process of, for example, a novel of 70,000 words by breaking it down to a doable, say, 7,000 word work-week. That would mean, yes… a thousand words a day! Much less intimidating, thank you very much.
Keeping track of your progress will ensure you meet your deadline in plenty of time to spare.

Don’t (ever) give up!

Remember, like any other skill, it will take practice to get your writing to the where you want it to be. But it is most important to remember to never give up! Keep learning. Keep pushing through.

Be proud of yourself and the progress you are making toward making your goals a reality.