Time for part 2! If you’re not familiar with this workshop, read the overview first. In this part, we’re going to look at making a list of points that you intend to make in your writing.
The toughest thing about writing is deciding what you will actually write about. It’s easy enough to set a starting point and end goal, as I write about in the previous Part of this workshop, but actually figuring out what goes between them can be hard.
I like to do this by brainstorming a list of bullet points that I need to hit on. As much as possible, I’ll try to put these in order.
I want to emphasize here that I personally do not value mind-maps. Maybe those work well for larger pieces; I don’t know. I’ve not run across a lot of successful writers who create productively from mind-maps. If they work for you, go for it, but remember something: while they can be good for endlessly capturing ideas and the relationships between them, mind-maps are horrible at evolving a linear sequence of ideas that build on each other. I see so many people spin and spin, growing ever-larger mind-maps, who come no closer to a cogent, sequential narrative after all that time.
Take this “Ask Me Anything” article on US Supreme Court Justice appointment. I knew when I set out that I wanted to make sure I made a few specific points:
- Justices need to be impartial, but no human is apolitical.
- What we say about our system to schoolchildren doesn’t necessarily reflect the complex reality of it.
- The Constitution leaves a lot of blank spaces.
- The Constitution is mainly a list of powers reserved for the Federal government, and everything else devolves to the States.
And so on. Those things aren’t necessarily in order, but they’re necessary to answer the question I was asked. As a second pass, I’ll try to order those in some sensible sequence. So I’ll rearrange the bullets until I feel they’re starting to form a narrative.
This bullet list is critical to me, because it serves as a literal checklist. When I’m done, I want to make sure I’ve covered each point. And yeah, sometimes I’ll go back and decide a bullet didn’t need to be covered, and that maybe I was being overly ambitious. It’s fine to modify as you go – just be wary of “scope creep,” and adding more than you need to cover to accomplish the goal of the piece.
After I get my bullet list done, I really triage it. Take this piece on DACA, for example. One of my goals, at the outset of the article, was to be “unbiased.” But as I started making my bullet list, I found myself with items like this:
- Point to examples of the grief the DACA uncertainty causes.
- Explain what Executive Orders are.
- Explain discretionary enforcement.
- Kids shouldn’t be punished for what their parents do.
As you can see, a couple of those bullets are contrary to my stated goal – they’re my opinions, and I didn’t set out to write an opinion piece. So during triage, I removed those. I’ll usually do triage a day, or even a few days, after I make the initial list. That gives me a cooling-off period, and lets me come back to the list with a fresh set of eyes.
Taking the topic you’ve decided to write about, and your “start” and “end” points (from the Part 1 assignment), make your bullet list. Again, I’m open to reviewing and offering feedback prior to the end of 2019 if you post a link to your work as a comment here.