Developing a Thought

by Mark Levy

We’re told attention spans are shrinking, so if we want people to read what we write for the web, we have to be concise.

That’s sound advice . . . up to a point.

Lately, I’ve coached some bloggers who each suffer from the same dilemma: They want to write longer works — more fully realized posts or even a book — but they’re not sure how. They’re so practiced at condensing their thoughts, that they can’t, out of habit, bring themselves to expand them.

If you’re in that situation, consider the following exercise.

Grab a pen and print out your last post (or any piece of your writing). What I’d now like you to do is mark spots where you, or another writer working on the same piece, could have expanded the work in a different direction.

You might, for instance, have described a scene using one or two words when someone else would have described it in five hundred words.

Or, you presented one argument, and neglected mentioning any counterarguments.

Or, you spoke about an idea without giving an example of it in action.

Once you’ve marked all the potential development spots, pick one and write about it.

That is, write it as if you were going to insert it into the post, or use it as a way of writing a new standalone post.

Remember, for the most part, writing is an unnatural act. Whatever writing style you have is learned. If you want to take your writing in a new direction, you have to force yourself in that direction so you can learn as you go.

To expand your writing, practice expanding it.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gladys Cruz

Hi
I am a newbie to the world of writing, but I am enjoying your post. Developing a Thought is written in it’s simplicity, yet profound. I love this excercise and I am going to practice it tomorrow.
Thank you for your writings and for encouraging your readers.

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Michael Terry | StatelyWord

I recently read an article that explained a similar technique. Take a topic – you can find the topic in one of your current articles or think of a new topic you’d like to write about, and start writing. BUT, write for a limited amount of time, say 5 or 10 minutes and stop. If you choose to ramble on in a different direction, let yourself do it. Go through and find key items and you’ll be surprised how many “thoughts” you generated in just the 5 or 10 minutes. Continue to do this for several hours at a time and you’ll have a thought bank to last several articles.

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Mark Levy

Thanks for the comments, Michael.

One of the keys to creating a useable thought bank is this:

Once the writer has done their raw writing, they should comb through it, pick out the best ideas, write those ideas up as complete sentences or paragraphs, and squirrel them away in an easy-to-find computer file.

Now, when the writer needs new thoughts, they don’t have to search loads of meandering freewriting documents. Instead, they have pages and pages of clearly articulated ideas to choose from.

Makes searching for one’s good ideas much more pleasant and efficient.

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Mark Levy

Hi Nory. When it comes to balancing video and text, I’m still experimenting. The only potentially useful idea I have to share is this:

When shooting a video, I’m conscious about what part of the story I want the video to play. Is it telling a complete story or a piece of the story?

So far, the videos I’ve tended to shoot and use are ones that are short and tell only a piece of the story. That said, the piece they tell is usually a main idea. I’ve yet to use a video for tactics and detail.

Thanks for commenting.

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Nory

As a past English teacher and long time writer, I appreciate these sentiments. We did LOTS of free writing in my classroom 🙂

Most of the young people in my life would rather watch video than read, though. This makes me feel a little torn, but it’s something to take advantage of on a website. My own website is way too verbose, and I know it. The trick is to strike a balance between the verbiage and getting the word out through video. Any suggestions?

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Joel Friedlander

Mark, that’s a great exercise. Wasn’t it also Strunk who was banging his shoe on the desk, shouting “Concision, concision, concision!”

This also reminds me of a practice from freewriting workshops where we would look at a piece of writing to find the “windows,” words or phrases that implied a much larger view of whatever the piece was about, then use those windows to enter that other world.

Writing a book certainly takes a different mindset than blogging, and going back and forth can be challenging, so practical tips like this are valuable.

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Mark Levy

Thanks, Joel. You’re so right about words being windows into other worlds.

I’m always reminding writers (and myself) that every choice they make on the page is just that: a choice. The direction they’ve taken in a given piece is likely just one direction, out of dozens, that they could have taken.

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