Tag Archives: Thought

Balancing Big Picture Brainstorming with Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Photo via ecooper99 Flickr

Some people can’t see the forest for the trees, but have you ever felt that you couldn’t see the individual trees because you were too occupied taking in the whole forest?

Sometimes, in the brainstorming phases of writing, the ideas are flowing, the big idea is clear in our mind’s eye, and we have no problem seeing the overall theme or message we want to convey. We might be going along with our day when we get a cool idea for a story; initially, everything seems to make sense, but when we sit down to really begin planning each scene, the going can get pretty tough.

It’s not often that I’ve liked getting into the details of any project, whether it’s planning a retreat, crunching the numbers on a new purchase, or even plotting a book. My high school English teacher once told me that I was a “big picture” person or an “ideas” person, which explains my aversion to doing math, and it’s true that I have always found mathematical concepts fascinating– whether I’m learning calculus or discussing quantum physics with my engineering friends– but I simply can’t be bothered to actually work out the details. This is hardly surprising, as I am an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judgemental) personality type on the Myers-Briggs personality test, and my intuition and preference for holistic thinking lends itself to generating concepts rather than concrete details.

This way of thinking is necessary for most endeavors, especially writing; after all, you have to know what you want to say before you can properly say it.

However, there is a Japanese proverb which states,

“Vision without action is a fantasy… action without vision is a nightmare.”

There are a lot of would-be writers who seem to have no shortage of ideas for the next big thing but who never seem to act on that vision and write. On the other hand, a quick trip through Amazon’s indie published titles reveals that there are just as many people with the ability to hammer out a book but who seemingly have no vision directing their writing.

It would be too easy to say, “Well, I’m a visionary. I’m just no good at the nitty gritty.” And frankly, this seems rather lazy. Writing is a particular business, and it takes a rare breed of person– one who possesses both the free-spirited creativity necessary for generating ideas and the analytical, no-nonsense practicality of organisation and discipline– to do it well.

It’s true that we all have differing balances of right and left brain proclivities, but there are ways we can leverage our strengths to help shore up the areas where we’re weak and to trick our brains into thinking they’re playing when the task at hand would normally seem like work.

For example, yesterday, while I was feeling particularly stuck with plotting my current WIP, I did something I’ve never done before. Usually, I resort to mindmapping, but this time, I just began writing down impressions and words connected to the scene I had in mind without circling or drawing connections between them. In this way, I created a sort of “cloud” where I could see the overall “feel” of the scene I needed to write, but I didn’t bother trying to draw connections between them until my subconscious tired out and the flow of ideas dried up.

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In the past, at this point, I would have probably tried to jump into writing the scene, but the problem is that I still only have an impression: I can kind of see what the scene needs to be, but it remains shimmering, effervescent, and vague.

So instead, I then turned to a new page in my notebook and, still in that creative state of mind, began writing in linear fashion the progression of events in the scene. I was still pulling ideas from the air, but now that I had an impression of what the scene would be, it was easier to focus my creativity into coming up with individual events that would be plausible within the scene. Now, I have a list of targets to hit as I progress through writing the first draft.

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I like to think of this method of brainstorming as “telescoping,” much the same way you can go to Google Earth and look at a map of the whole United States to get the big picture, then you can zoom in to your particular city to see the roadmap of where you’re going, and finally, you can enter Street View to get an on-the-ground perspective.

Similarly, we can first come up with the big idea for what we want to write, then we can organise those ideas into something resembling a roadmap for the draft, and finally, when it comes time to write the prose, we put ourselves actively into the scene and fill in the details on the level of sentences and paragraphs.

I’m going to tweak this method and see how it works for other scenes, but for now, I feel much more prepared to write the first draft.

How do you go about planning a piece? How would your process differ for blog posts versus fiction? Do you prefer to work backwards, writing scenes from the ground up and later organising them into a big idea for a story?

No Comments from the Peanut Gallery!

How many times have you felt the impulse to leave a comment on an article or blog but then thought better of it and moved on?

Whether the piece is sheer brilliance or more internet garbage, there is almost always a section where readers can leave comments (often referred to as a combox). I have mixed feelings about the combox, but until I read Kristin Lamb’s recent post about “improving your likability quotient”, and Bob Mayer’s thoughts on your internet presence, I must admit, I wasn’t an avid commenter.

Here’s the thing: As much as I often think I have important things to say, when I see several hundred comments, I often feel like adding my voice to the fray won’t be a worthwhile contribution.

Oh how wrong I was.

I’m not sure about you guys, but I know I have a tendency to size up the world in an “all-or-nothing” mindset far too often. Here are a few of my usual inner monologues:

“If my blog post or comment isn’t going to rock the foundations of the literary world, well, then… I may as well not comment at all!”

“Oh, look at the flame war! I thought I smelled smoke over on WordPress… This fire has clearly burned itself out. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”

“This guy clearly doesn’t have a clue, but he’s obviously too stupid to consider anything I have to say. I think I’ll go preach to the choir where I know people will listen to me.”

Smiley from the sMirC-series. facepalm

 No, no, no.

You see, it’s called social media for a reason. Even when it appears that your thought may be lost in an ever-deepening sea of other comments, you never know who might read it. At the very least, the blog author will get another alert letting him know that you thought his post was worthwhile reading, and while busier bloggers can’t always read or reply to every individual comment, you have just given him a digital high-five of sorts and spread some internet cheer. We bloggers like being “liked.”

Secondly, whenever you leave a comment on a blog, you are leaving a virtual trail of breadcrumbs back to your own blog. As Nicola Morgan points out, Google loves it when you make its job easier. Every time you comment somewhere else, you leave a veritable trail of metadata in your wake, making your blog more likely to show up in search engines and, in a sense, casting your nets wide into the sea of the internet.

And lastly, while the internet is a big place, you are an important part of it. Sometimes, it might seem as if your contribution to the free flow of information and ideas is nothing but a drop in an ocean, but the ocean would be that much drier and shallower without your thought. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” (an aphorism of which I am in constant need of reminding). It was, rather, each individual stone in a Roman road which comprised the network that allowed the empire to stretch across Europe. And it was each individual citizen who came to debate in the forum which allowed for the republic to flourish into the classical civilisation to which we still look today.

Ready to join the legions of intelligent, articulate blog commenters currently amassing to redeem the internet?

I thought so.

To bloggers:

  • DO enable commenting on your blogs. Most platforms have sufficient spam blockers to keep the bots at bay. If people cannot participate in your blog, then you are basically having a conversation with yourself, and we all know that writers do enough of that outside the blogosphere as it is, right? 😉
  • DO reply to comments within your own blog. This shows your adoring fans that you do, in fact, care about them and take the time to read what they say. Nothing builds rapport between a blogger and his audience better than mingling amongst the commoners conversing with his readers.
  • DO write thought-provoking posts that encourage conversation. Hell, write something controversial if its gets people talking! You might try leaving an open question at the end of your posts or inviting a guest blogger to provide a counter-post.
  • DO take the time to read and comment on other bloggers’ posts. Far from fraternising with the competition, you just paid the favor forward and brightened someone else’s corner of the internet. If anything, he might feel indebted and comment back on your blog, but at the very least, you have shown that what you consider worthy enough of your time to read is also worthy of your time to contribute to, as well.
  • DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS!

To readers:

  • DO read articles and posts carefully and analytically. Take the time to craft a thoughtful, genuine post that shows the author you have heard what he has to say and want to collaborate with him via a shared experience or constructive criticism.
  • DO forward links from other relevant blogs in your comments if you think they will contribute to the conversation. Just be careful about appearing… spammy.
  • DO click the “Like” button if you don’t have time to write a whole comment. This will at least let the author know that you read and enjoyed his work.
  • I repeat DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS!

So, was this a cleverly-designed trap to lure readers into commenting on my blog and boosting my ego?

Perhaps.

But really, it’s not about me (although notifications are gratifying most of the time). It’s about making the internet a better place for everyone. If you have been shy about joining the fracas, there’s no time like the present! So, please, take up that seat in the peanut gallery and fire away!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your commenting in the blogosphere and what ideas you have to improve the experience. It seems to me that one of the huge problems confronting us is the general lack of civility in the comboxes. Thoughts? Opinions? Reactions? Criticism? Viewpoints? Convictions?

I’m all ears.