Last month I wrote about mind mapping: a method of brainstorming that is often helpful in identifying a topic and defining a topic to write about.
Do you have your topic?
I have also chosen a topic–I thought it would be preferable if I refer to a specific example rather than speak in the abstract as I demonstrate an approach to beginning drafting an article or essay.
My topic is Digital Organizing (this will really be the topic of next month’s Thoughts for the Month).
I know many of you are not new to writing and may be resistant to reading a blog post that appears to be speaking to beginners or assumes that people who visit my site don’t know the basics of writing. Before you all take offense, please consider that some visitors to a writer/editor’s website may, in fact, not be highly trained writers, and they may or may not be interested in refining their skills. For some who would like to be more attentive writers, if business as usual has been disrupted by the coronavirus, this may be an opportune time to revise your website or write the newsletter that you have wanted to begin.
Some of my readers are also educators or students, so I will be addressing outlining and revision processes in a way that is applicable to writing for either the internet or academic settings (or specify which is which).
The inspiration for this post actually stems from my own process as a writer (and somewhat from what I have frequently observed in student papers).
I never used to write from an outline. I found them restricting, overly formal, and stifling to the creative process. I still don’t always write an official outline before a first draft, but I have begun to at least mentally following a set of guidelines to keep my writing focused–and I must admit, my readability is often improved.
Typically, as taught in most composition courses, the first step in the outline process is to identify a thesis statement (academic or essay-style writing). If you are writing a blog post you will want a clear CTA, or Call to Action, especially for sales or public awareness blogs. These should be 1 sentence statements, and they are the focusing reason for why you are writing something to be read in the first place.
Although a thesis and a CTA should be identified before fleshing out the remainder of the essay, they are not necessarily the first sentence. Typically, a thesis statement is required as the last sentence of the first paragraph (less frequently, it may appear in the last paragraph). A CTA is often toward the end of a blog post–maybe the last sentence.
Since this article is an overview, I’m not going to discuss crafting a CTA or a thesis statement in much detail–there are plenty of resources (including those linked) demonstrating these techniques. I’m demonstrating the outline and revision process, since I’m outlining a blog post, I’ll start with a CTA.
As I said earlier in this post, my topic is digital organization, and now that I have a simple CTA, I can begin my outline:
Writing the Blog Post Outline
- CTA: Let’s get organized!
- Introduction: The clutter of years of paper accumulations.
- Paragraph 1: Digital organization apps. Are they a solution for you?
- Paragraph 2: Choosing from the array of available organization apps
- Paragraph 3: My favorites, Evernote, Asana, Dropbox, Trello, and Google Drive.
- Paragraph 4: Approaching the challenge/integrating new habits.
- Paragraph 5: Results!
- Conclusion–my conclusion is my CTA.
With the above outline, I can keep myself on track and not diverge into a subtopic like, say, the relaxation app that I found while I was searching for organization apps (but I may or may not flag that as a topic for a later post if it is something along the lines of what I would write about).
The Revision Process
From my outline above, I’ll be able to write a clear and focused first draft, but I will still want to check myself with a revision and self-edit.
When I revise a first draft I look specifically at my paragraphs, ensuring that each has a focusing topic sentence (such as those in the outline) and that each subsequent sentence is on-topic according to that first sentence. The final sentence of each paragraph should be written as a transition statement from one topic to the next.
This phase will be more complex with a 15-page term paper than it is with a 500-word blog post. When approaching research papers, I often advise directing considerable attention to paragraphing. In the paragraph margins, I notate the main points of each sentence to provide myself with a visual of where I might be drifting off-topic and how I need to reorganize. I also reread the first and last paragraphs to be sure that my introduction and conclusion are aligned.
Getting to Final Draft
Once I have followed the steps above, I should almost be ready to publish my post (or turn in my paper). But first–a little attention to self-editing can go a long way. Or perhaps I should say, leave more time for editing than you think you will need. If you are able (some classes require this)–grab a partner for peer-review editing. Read, Write, Think provides an effective self and peer-review editing checklist.
Now that we’ve gone from brainstorming to final draft, we’re probably ready to figure out how to file all of the research material that resulted from this process. Fortunately, as you know, next month’s post addresses digital organizing.
See you then!
If you are a student, term paper season is nearly here. Some of you may not be turning in research or reflective papers until the end of the semester, but others may be facing the reality of assignments due before midterm.
Retail business owners are also challenged with marketing content ideas this time of year: several major shopping holidays are over and summer sales are a few months away. Customers are watching their budgets.
Are you staring at a blank Word document?
Writer’s block is one of the most frustrating obstacles to productivity (along with technical “glitches”).
Sometimes we can work through thought blockages by doing something else for a while–hiking, a workout at the gym…
…but often when we sit back down at the computer the blank screen is just as blank as it was before.
Getting from blank screen to first draft can be the biggest hurdle of the project.
Mind Mapping is a creative thinking technique designed to restore the flow of ideas during such times of brainstorming difficulty. It can be done with a computer (there are numerous apps that are designed for this) or pen and paper but, speaking for myself, I often step away from the computer and revert to handwritten composition when I’m struggling with writing. If nothing else, it takes me away from the distractions of social media and the aggravations of political maelstrom. But it’s my opinion also that pen and paper can help us access certain channels of the creative thought process.
To begin your mind map write down every concept or thought that occurs to you. Don’t try to think in complete sentences. When you have written 5 or so words or phrases, circle three or so that appeal to you most. From those circles “branch” out to anything that concept brings to mind.
You may begin to see a pattern or you may be suddenly inspired to pursue a particular line of thought. You might realize that you have much more to say about a particular subject than you realized.
When it works at its best, I frequently find I have enough ideas to fill my editorial calendar for quite a while after I sit down and mind map for 15-30 minutes.. Sometimes I don’t even need to officially plot out the “map” on paper–I just need to be conscious of activating a line of thinking similar to that activated by the process of mind mapping.
This approach can be used not only for ideas but for studying and organizing information. See examples at mindmapping.com.
A mind map is not an essay outline, and it probably won’t perfectly structure an article or marketing email for you (at least not the first versions in which you are only thinking about ideas). You will still have to figure out how to organize and present your concepts to an audience. Later versions could be re-written to help plot out presentation.
What mind mapping does is to literally “fill in the blanks” providing a visual of the connectors from one line of thought to another–hopefully enabling previously overlooked sparks of inspiration to appear.
Comment below with your experience of writer’s block and/or mind mapping.
Next month: The Revision Process…
Since the days of cave art and hieroglyphs, it has been the job of the scribe to impart and preserve divine inspiration and/or creative impulse. Scribes write to inform, instruct, contemplate, and communicate.
Scriveners (synonymous with scribes to an extent) traditionally are assigned to the more mundane tasks of checking for accuracy, quality, and official record-keeping.
As the owner and primary editor of Scribe & Scrivener, I’m committed to applying an “old world” attention to detail to today’s fast-paced technological atmosphere.
Contact me to discuss your project & we’ll have a bit of Old World/New World fun!
Hint: refresh this page and notice the image box (just for fun:)