Writing well: Linear and Non-Linear Thinking

Mar 24, 2014 | Better Writing

Writing is systematic, structured, and linear. Imagination is not.

Imagination is all about making connections between things that weren’t connected in your mind before. It’s a form of juggling, but with ideas. If you want to write a great book or great blog posts, you’ve got to use your imagination. But imagination alone won’t feed the bulldog.

The OMG Moment

Has this ever happened to you? You get a great idea and you decide it’s the perfect subject for a blog post or article. So, you fire up your word processor, open a file, and start to write. And then it happens … the OMG moment.

That idea that seemed so logical and complete in your mind suddenly seems unformed and incomplete. That’s because it is unformed and incomplete. Too many times, imagination doesn’t prepare ideas for writing. So what can you do?

Two Strategies

There are two ways you can attack the problem. A brain dump or zero draft will get everything about the idea out of your head so you can make sense of it. A little linear planning will get you closer to a finished piece of writing, but you may leave some juicy ideas inside your head.

Brain Dump

Just start writing. Don’t worry about logic and well-crafted argument. Worry less about correct grammar and spelling. Get it out. Get it down. Stop writing when you’re done.

Then take a deep breath and look at what you’ve got. Most of them time you’ll have several good ideas and interesting connections that you can use.

A Little Linear Planning

Writing is the art of taking those unruly ideas, putting them in line, and marching them toward something important. That’s one reason outlines are so popular. But most of the time you don’t need a full-bore outlining process to make sense of your ideas. Try these three steps.

  1. Write down your key points. Don’t worry about order.
  2. Put them in an order that makes sense.
  3. When you’ve got the order, add transitions, a brief statement of how you’re going to get from one to the other.

That’s usually enough to get you going.

How does it work for you?

To write well you need both linear and non-linear thinking. What tricks do you have to use both well?

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