by Nancy Casey
Sometimes it feels like we have nothing to write about. Other times, we can feel so overwhelmed by how much we have to say that no single “thing” to write about stands out. Even when we do know what we want to write about, it’s often difficult to figure out where to start.
That’s because a piece of writing has a beginning and an end and is “about” something. But our minds and our memories don’t work that way. We are full of ideas, thoughts, and stories that swim around in there all the time. They echo and interrupt each other and are never still. Starting to write about one of them can make the others clamor that much harder to get in.
Rather than enforce the discipline that it takes to “write something,” here is a way to take pen to paper and follow your thoughts. After your mind has had a chance to wander to all the places it likes to go, it is often much easier to think and write clearly about one thing. See if this works for you.
Begin with a clean sheet of paper, and have a second one handy. Turn the page sideways so it is wider than it is tall. In the center, write your Start Word. This can be a topic that has been on your mind, the first word that pops into your head, or a word you point to randomly from a book. Draw a circle (or any shape, really) around the Start Word.
What does the Start Word make you think of? A new word? A story? A person who uses the word? Whatever comes to mind, write that thought down in a word or two, draw a shape around it, and connect to the shape surrounding your Start Word.
Now it’s as if you have two Start Words. What pops into your head next? Write down a word for that idea and enclose it in a shape. Draw a line to show which word it is connected to.. Now three words have jiggled loose from your memory. Keep going. What pops into your head next? Try to fill up the whole page with shapes that hold words and show their connections.
You will find that the words inside the shapes and the lines connecting them wander all over the page, just like your mind wanders wherever it can wander to. It’s fun to see how far afield related thoughts and stories can take you.
At some point when you go to write a word or a phrase, you might get an urge to tell a whole story or explain a big idea. If a whole lot more words want to tumble out about a single topic, take up the second sheet of paper and let the words flow.
Sometimes it turns out that everything you put into this web of shapes is mostly about one topic. If that happens, use the web of shapes as your “notes” and write about the topic on the second sheet of paper.
You could find that one area of the web of connections really stands out for you. You can write about that on the second sheet if that’s what seems like the right thing to do next.
What if you don’t feel like shifting over to writing sentences and paragraphs? Then choose an area of the web of connections you have made and, using it as a rough draft, make a different fancier version of it on the second page.
Give a different title to the two pages you have made. Add any doodles or illustrations you think they require. Put the date somewhere on the page as well. Here is an example of what someone might write.
Try this multiple times throughout the week. Notice which type of writing comes easier to you, the web of ideas or the sentences and paragraphs. It will probably be different on different days.
Nancy Casey teaches at the Recovery Center on Thursdays. 531 S. Main St. in Moscow. Check the calendar for classes and times. All are welcome. Call the Recovery Center 208-883-1045 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.