When I sit down to start drafting my column, I donâ€™t always have a topic figured out. I typically free write to generate ideas but sometimes I get stuck. When that happens Iâ€™ll brainstorm instead. I have different formats to do this.
Having a variety of different breakthrough techniques to pick from shakes up my writing routine and helps trigger ideas. One technique I use is listing words related to a specific topic like the current season, latest news, rural life, ranch life, cows, marriage, or parenting, for example. I jot down as many related words as I can think of. Once I have a satisfactory list, I go back and add as many details as possible related to each word. I continue to do this until ideas start building on a few of the topics and I feel like Iâ€™ve gotten enough base material to start a draft, or a whole new topic surfaces that will provide an adequate amount of content. Iâ€™ll add off-the-wall stuff, quotes, feelings, thoughts, and experiences for content possibilities.
Â Another technique I use is called mind mapping.
On a blank sheet of paper, Iâ€™ll write the main idea with a circle around it in the middle and draw connecting branches to related ideasâ€”as many as I can think of until the page is filled. This technique helps trigger more details or sometimes completely different ideas.
Branching is a technique similar to mind mapping that I use to get ideas to surface.
I start with writing the main idea in the middle and draw a few branching lines with divisions of that topic, then draw smaller branching lines of subsets to each division of the main idea.
As an example, I recently did a column about branding, which was my main topic. I wrote out subtopics about branding like calves, equipment, the meal, traditions, people, weather, laundry, etc. Under each subtopic, I listed further. For people, I listed neighbors, ranch kids, vaccinators, branders, calf wrestlers, ear-taggers, ropers, mothers, kitchen help, etc. I added little details for each that eventually spurred the idea I used for my column about how my son evolved as a calf wrestler at brandings over the years.
I go through this process a lot when I sit down to draft a column either to get started or build interesting content. I have a big composting pile of bits and pieces Iâ€™ve written and collected over the years of topic ideas or column starts that fizzled out but kept for reuse later. I have recycled and combined a lot of these with new ideas that needed more content.Â
Listing, mind mapping, and branching is not just for writers. These breakthrough techniques can be a creative way to generate ideas for anything regardless of oneâ€™s work. Branching is also a great way to organize a lot of material. Sometimes I have too much material and these techniques break it up into different categories that could be future columns.