One Minute Writing Tip: #3

Clustering Helps You Know What You Want To Say, Rapidly.

I first discovered clustering while taking a drawing class. Although I have a very strong sense of visual harmony and the relationships between objects and their sizes and shapes, I’ve still not mastered drawing and perspective. So when I do venture into painting it’s always abstract. But I came away with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards which taught me to put seemingly unrelated ideas down on paper, much like the photo above illustrates.

This technique was a lifesaver in my professional career as a story analyst. We had a heavy weekly reading schedule (about a thousand pages a week) and strict deadlines. That work taught me a tremendous amount about writing but as a dominantly right-brained person I almost always felt panicked to collect my thoughts about what I’d read and put those well considered thoughts down as a cogent analysis. There was pressure to perform and also an awareness that my opinion was in writing and would be archived at the studio employing me into perpetuity. There was no room for vague commentary.

So, if you’re stuck on a writing project, whether it’s a letter or a thesis, I encourage you to explore clustering for yourself. Here’s an example of how it works. Say you wish to express a series of logical ideas and also your feelings about them and how they might expand into something greater than the sum of parts. You may begin with the logical stuff and then tease out the emotions that bubble up. Or you can start with the feelings first and follow those emotions back to their roots in finite ideas. Or just plop down whatever comes to you. Don’t worry. The process sorts for you. You can use clustering to problem solve plots too.

There is a lot of power in chunking ideas down on paper where you can see them. They have individual integrity this way but their relationships to one another also emerge. Combinations you hadn’t previously grasped may also suggest themselves. You may even be pleasantly surprised (and I almost always am) by the discoveries you make. This technique is fantastic at breaking through brain fog or other blocks to flow. I think you’ll find clustering a very freeing and enjoyable exercise. It has saved my butt on innumerable occasions.

Clustering is a big win! I encourage you to give it a try. What’ve you got to lose?

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