The Storm of Thought
Analogies help to make sense of phenomena that are difficult or hard to explain. A storm, for example, is used analogously to describe the type of chaotic and unpredictable mental activity that occurs when the brain is excited. “Brainstorming” is the accepted term for this kind of free and stimulated thought. Most of the time conducted in a group setting, “brainstorming” primarily focuses on inventive or creative thought.
The mission of brainstorming is to get it all out on the table, often resulting in a bunch of seemingly crazy and inconsistent ideas. But that’s okay. That’s actually the goal of brainstorming. Its emphasis is on associative-thinking. The philosophy of the process is that ideas – no matter how crazy they may seem — might lead to something novel and useful.
The Stream of Thought
Goal attainment, on the other hand, demands a kind of thinking that is clear and tightly governed-the same type of thinking that results from engaging in the practice of writing. And though it is not often thought of as an aid to thinking, writing is actually most valuable when it is used as a guide to your thinking.
Thinking-while-writing is not storm-like; it’s not chaotic and ungoverned but flowing in a clear direction. Using another analogy from nature, this kind of thinking is much like the flow and general structure of a stream and the bed in which it travels. I call this kind of thinking brainstreaming. The following describes the various ways in which thinking-while-writing is like the dynamics of a stream:
The water in a stream is symbolic of the content of your thinking. It stands for the knowledge, the flow, and the various mixtures of interrelationships made possible by the flow of thought.
The banks of the stream represent the governing sense that writing provides for an active mind. Writing prevents the mind from wandering just as the banks of a stream keep the water on its course. A stream, like thought, twists and turns, but only within the boundaries that the bank provides.
Downstream indicates the direction of flow while upstream, of course, is the direction against the flow. Thinking, like a stream’s flow, travels in only one direction. It is naturally progressive, and will never makes its way upstream.
An eddy is a current or movement against the flow in a circular or whirlpool type motion. Maybe you sometimes feel as though your thinking is circular and not gainful. But remember, eddies of thought are ultimately subject to the natural downstream flow of active thought. Though you may feel otherwise your thoughts are always moving ahead (downstream).
Stream-beds are full of rocks and sticks. The water flows around or over these impediments. And while they impede the flow, impediments are natural elements common to all streams. In a similar fashion impediments are natural to thought as well. And like water flowing around a rock so does your thinking find an alternative route to continue its flow.
The amount of water in a stream determines its flow. More water means greater flow. Similarly, the flow of one’s thinking is a product of the mind’s content. A mind abundant with knowledge and experience engages quickly. Its flow is quick and voluminous. Inversely, a mind void of content is slow, trickling like a stream thirsting for water. Experiences and the acquisition of knowledge are important elements in thinking.
The Practice of Writing
Achievement begins with pen and paper. With a sound approach, writing evokes the kind of thinking (brainstreaming) that will make goal attainment possible. The following should help to answer the question, “How do you write in order to think?”
Goal Setting, Step 1
Writing produces a goal-driven mindset. The very effort of writing is in itself a goal oriented task. Writing presupposes a purpose. It is best to begin by stating your goal(s) explicitly, in writing. Remember, goal attainment is not automatic; it requires thought. And while you may have a notion of how to achieve your goal(s) writing improves the quality of your thinking and enables you to think with precision and comprehensively.
The Dance of Questions, Step 2
A statement of a goal should begin your writing. This engages your mind and promotes clarity and a unified direction. This first step, therefore, starts the mental ball rolling.
The second step in thinking-in-ink I call the “dance of questions.” Primarily its aim is to elicit material from your mind that may be helpful in discovering methods to attain your goal.
Questions beg for answers, and so their entry into the arena of writing stimulates the stream-like flow of material. The dance itself is a form of self-interview requiring you to pose questions and then also provide the possible answers. Using the primary questions discussed in issue #4 (What? Why? How? and When?) you should begin asking yourself questions about your goal.
The flow of material from your mind, especially during the dance, will not manifest in a logical order. If it did, writing would merely be a transcription of thought. Work is required to evolve the logical order necessary to attain your goal, and that takes us to Step 3, finding structure.
Finding Structure (The Outline), Step 3
The goal statement focuses your mind, and the dance of questions probes for material that may be important in attaining the goal. The dance, however, does not provide you with answers; it only elicits helpful information and ideas. Logic, priority and organization are required to derive answers. So an important next step in thinking-in-ink is the development of structure.
First, you must find structure and relationships. Using the material that you developed during the dance of questions ask yourself the more general question, “Which ideas seem to belong together?”
Grouping similar ideas begins the important process of economizing. The groups that you derive in your search for relationships really define categories of your thinking, and the development of categories is a precursor to the next step, uncovering hierarchy.
Hierarchy, Dependency, and Logical Order
The categories, as well as the material within the categories, should be organized according to their scale of significance or dependency. Here are some of the questions to ask yourself during this step: “What depends on what? Does it matter which order these things appear? If I were writing to an audience how would I order the material?”
Making order of your thoughts begins the process of building a map or an outline. And by ordering your thoughts hierarchically you prepare yourself for the stage that makes full meaning of your thoughts, drafting and editing.
Drafting and Editing, Step 4
Drafting is time consuming and difficult, but it is also an absolute necessity. Drafting helps to complete your thinking while the outline is merely a blueprint for the construction of your draft. As you begin to construct sentences and paragraphs according to the structure of your outline think little about style or rhythm. The draft is intended merely to make meaning out of what you’ve developed in your outline; the only audience for the draft is you.
After your first draft is complete, you must begin the laborious process of editing. And with your attention now on precision, you should modify your draft in order to bring full and clear meaning to your thoughts. Editing includes adding and changing text to make your ideas clearer, deleting text to make your ideas simple and concise, and modifying the order of your text to develop the best approach for attaining the goal.
- The statement of a goal focuses your mind.
- The dance of questions piques your mind and helps to elicit information relevant to the goal.
- Focusing on structure helps to unify your ideas.
- Drafting and editing are the steps necessary to make your ideas comprehensive and ultimately, meaningful
Thinking/Writing –Nancy Cavender, Leonard Weiss
Reading, Writing and Thinking –Rosenberg
Levi Hill — Copyright 1993-2003