‘Blind’ writing is a solution for compulsive editors. If you feel critical about every word you produce and constantly delete and rewrite the same sentence, it may be better not to see what you write. Try typing with a dark screen to help you achieve momentum and mass before crafting your output.
Responding and mirroring should help you get in the mood for writing, by engaging with other texts. Read a text of the format in which you are writing (for example, if you are writing a report, choose a report, if a magazine article, choose a magazine article) and write an informal critique of it. If you could ask the writer questions about it, what would you ask? What do you think could have been done better in the document? Rewrite a section to improve it. What is particularly effective in the document, and why? If the document asks a question, answer it. By responding this way to the text, you are building motivation and direction to work on yours. This technique is also called ‘mirroring’, a term from the world of acting. Trainee actors learn to perform by reflecting in their behavior what they observe in a partner responding to a smile with a smile, to a frown with a frown, etc. This is based on the idea that any form of action is also, by extension, a form of communication, that is, it is meaningful in relation to a context and a set of participants. Clearly, then, this is relevant to writing too, and can fruitfully be exploited as a ‘warm-up’ or ‘unblocking’ technique.
Writing to the resistance means writing about why you are having trouble tackling a task, or why you are being frustrated in your investigations. This process may help you break through a puzzle, or identify more clearly what it is about the forms of evidence you are dealing with that makes them difficult. Writing to the resistance works especially well in cases when you feel so perplexed or overwhelmed by a topic that you find it difficult to write about in a systematically logical way. It may help you to trace a rational pattern in chaotic thinking.
Freewriting offers one method of clearing and opening your mind. You can freewrite by writing non-stop, on any topic, for a specific length of time. Do not stop to edit or evaluate what you are writing, and, if you cannot think of anything, keep repeating your last word or phrase until you get going again. The point of freewriting is to unblock your thought processes, and put you in the mood to express ideas in writing. The topic or relevance of what you are writing is, at this stage, put aside. Many writers find that freewriting allows them to approach their task in an uninhibited way.
When you brainstorm and use the other techniques for generating content, you are basically drafting. The proper drafting stage comes when you feel that you have gathered enough information and have a clear idea where you are heading, so it is now time to expand confidently. When drafting, you will often find that much of your planning will change. Drafting is when you put into practice the ideas you generated in the previous stage and see how they work in expanded form. Make yourself receptive to influences that can provide direction and inspiration: keep your topic in the back of your mind in your everyday activities. Read, watch, listen critically, and seize all that is productive for your purposes. Also, be open to serendipity – inspiration through sudden, previously unrecognized connections. Many great scientific and technical discoveries were made accidentally, by sudden awareness of previously unseen analogies. If you get stuck when drafting, do not attempt to complete the draft in one go. Instead, let it incubate by putting it on the ‘back burner’ of your mind and coming back to it later. The time lapse between giving up on a draft and coming back to it could be a few minutes, hours, overnight, or more depending on project deadlines, of course’ In the meantime, you can do something else that, even though it may seem irrelevant, allows your thoughts to gestate. In fact, in professional contexts more often than not you work on many projects simultaneously, so time management – and letting go of one project to move to another – become significant skills.
This is a spatial type of outlining used in film and multimedia projects. Small screens are drawn on a page depicting the main visual elements of major scenes in a project. Under each screen is some script describing the main action and indicating any areas that need to be developed for the particular scene. In the case of writing, the screen can be replaced with a descriptive heading. Spatial experimentation can help you find a logical order in which to present your ideas. For both outlining and storyboarding, do not delete documents or files until the project is finished, because you may find that the information, which you deleted assuming to be redundant becomes relevant again at a later stage.
With outlining you first come up with section topics, then a summary of the document, and then gradually expand your ideas to create the final document. After some brainstorming, extract the key themes that you identified and give them headings. Under each heading, brainstorm some more points that are related to the heading’s theme. Having ‘filled’ the headings, you will have chunks of information on each theme, which make up a summary of your final document. You can then decide what sequence would be most appropriate, and reorder your section headings in that sequence. Outlining is effective for ‘top-down’ writers, those who begin with a big picture plan of the whole document, and then build up the details as they go. When writing a report, the outline acts as a first draft that can be submitted to a manager or client to show the progress of a project.
If your topic involves interpreting a scientific development or process to a non-specialist audience, simplify and analyze the topic in your own mind by brainstorming as many statements as possible under these categories:
- Existence: How can the existence of X be shown?
- Quantity: How large/small is X? How fast?
- Comparison: Is X greater/less than Y? In what ways is X different from Y?
- Correlation: Does the speed of X vary with its weight?
- Causality: If X occurs, will Y also occur? How do we know?
Bouncing ideas means talking about your project to someone. The aim here is to listen to yourself talk about your task, so it is not important if your interlocutor is versed in your topic or not. In fact, some writers find that talking about their topic to someone who is a total outsider helps them to clarify issues. If you are having trouble solving a particular problem, talk about why you are having trouble. Variations on this method include talking to yourself or talking into a tape recorder, which has the advantage of capturing your thoughts exactly. Some people are most productive in generating and developing ideas when they can move around and create kinetic energy.
Journalists’ questions begin with what is known as the ’5W’s and 1H’ interrogatives:
You can approach your task by listing as many journalists’ questions about your topic as you can. Questioning encourages you to look at a topic from many different perspectives, and may help you to narrow the issue that you are investigating. Journalists’ questions are especially useful when your task involves much factual information, because they actually force you to answer them by providing specifics rather than open-ended or ambiguous statements.