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Three steps to free up your words and ideas

Writing is a lot like life. Some days, it flows like the Rio Grande—the words rush and tumble from our pen and we feel as if we can hardly keep up. Other days, we wonder where the ten-foot beavers came from that overnight built the dam that not only blocks our proficiency but our very ability to form syllables, put words in the right order.

I had one of these days recently. I felt as if my synapses were asleep, as if I just couldn’t find the words. Any words. They were gone. But I really needed to write the last poem for my poetry manuscript. And I had a deadline. So, what did I do? Three things.

1. Mind-map.  First, I drew a mind-map. With a mind-map, you only need to come up with one word at a time. It’s a great tool to use after you’ve had a visit from the ten-foot beavers. First, you draw a circle in the center of your paper and then lines or branches out from that in all directions.

I wrote the word “Sorrento” in the circle because I knew the poem was going to be about my trip there a few years ago. I knew the poem had something to do with language so I wrote that word on one of my branches. I drew three branches from the main branch of “language” and named them English, Spanish, and Italian. Then, I drew a branch and called it “sightseeing.” I drew a line off that branch for every statue, piazza, or shop that made an impression on me (meaning ones that I still remember five years later).

2. Research.  Once I had a pretty good mind-map going, the next thing I did was research. I looked up Sorrento, Italy online and learned some interesting facts. I followed the information that interested me most and did more research. I took my time and followed out all the threads.

3. Bullet List.  Next, I created a bullet list of all the information that interested me the most from my research.

From these two documents—my mind-map and bullet list—a poem began to emerge. And once it did, the dam burst open and my words flowed again.

Try these techniques anytime you need to nudge your words in the right direction. Use them for writing a poem, a blog post, developing characters, or creating scenes for your work in progress.

Next time the ten-foot beavers appear, I’ll be ready.

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