Recently, I’ve been toying with an idea for a creative nonfiction piece that I want to enter in an upcoming writing contest, but I’m having a difficult time getting all the threads down. After reading about different plot tools in author Holly Lisle’s “Create a Plot Clinic,” I decided to try her idea of clustering to expand on my idea.
Lisle says, “To cluster, you write a word, a phrase, or a question, draw a circle around it, draw an arrow, write the first word, phrase or question that comes to your mind in relation to the first circle, and keep writing and drawing until you’ve formed a web.” This technique is also called mind mapping, and I’ve used it before but then sort of forgot about it.
So I pulled out my yellow pad and pen (colored pencils and drawing paper are fun, too) and wrote my original idea in the center of my paper and circled it. From there, I drew lines and other circles and wrote down the first words that came to me. Within a half hour, I had my entire piece outlined in the mind map.
Here’s a picture of what it looked like when I was done (don’t be frightened off from my handwriting–it comes from my paralegal days): Read more
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). Read more