I get emails or comments to my blogs quite often asking for advice on how to write a blog post. These requests are usually from people who say that they’d like to write, but can’t think of anything to say. While
the specifics might vary from reply to reply the underlying theme of my answers is always the same – let your brain loose.
Our brains are amazing things that house unbelievable amounts of data, information, stories and experiences. Writers apparently have just found a way to tap into that storehouse and let it work. At least that’s what I think I do. Quite often, in this blog in particular, I will play off the thoughts of the day from my favorite source Jack Freed and his Jacks Winning Words blog. Jack is the retired pastor of my church and he writes a short post each day (Monday thru Friday, only) that is always a quote of some sort and his take in 2-3 sentences on that quote. Jack usually ends by challenging his readers to think about their reaction or answer to the quote. I take that same quote and riff on it for 4-5-8 paragraphs, sometimes in directions that are completely different from where Jack went with it.
So, how do I do that? The answer is that I tend to turn my brain loose and see where it takes me. I write in a stream of consciousness mode by asking myself questions like “what do I think about that?” or “maybe what experiences or stories do I have about that?” Sometimes I’ll just see a completely different meaning in the quote that Jack saw. Sometimes I’ll take off in one direction and end up going to a completely different place. I often have to edit and abandon earlier sentences or paragraphs altogether. Many times I may stop to look up something, maybe another quote that might fit and express what I’m trying to say. During those searches I will often find other quotes that I like and save or future posts. I have a whole list of topics for future posts sitting on my Desktop on my computer.
Many times I will find that I’ve somehow gone down a rat-hole with my thought process and have to back up and start off in a new direction – more paragraphs go into the bit-bucket when that happens. I try to stay positive in what I write, but occasionally will explore the dark (or cynical) side of a topic. I find more pleasure out of writing upbeat posts than I do from venting on a topic or taking the negative approach.
If the topic is one that I’m trying to give advice about, I will try to draw on my own experiences or stories. Such experiences and stories are all in there, in your brain, you just have to let them loose. I try to avoid rendering my own opinion of topics, especially controversial topics, although I’m sure that it comes through in the tone or content bias of the piece.
So, how do you get started? You could scan the daily news for stories that interest you. Why do they interest you? Do you have an opinion about that topic? Is there a story about a cause that you also support? Why? Do you know someone afflicted with whatever the cause is trying to prevent or help with? Have you helped in the past? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe you see a quote on the wall in a poster or in the paper or on the Internet somewhere; what does that quote mean to you? How do you relate to it? Do you have a story or experience that relates to it? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe a cartoon or a quote that you see triggers some thoughts in you. Run with it. Get those thoughts out and then look for more. Let your brain loose.
Gary Larson is the creator of Far Side, one of the more offbeat and funny cartoons that appears in daily newspapers. Being able to create single panel cartoons that express such humorous thoughts is a real talent and one that he gets by letting his brain loose, or as he puts it – “You know those little snow globes that you shake up? I always thought my brain was sort of like that. You know, where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out and shake it again. It’s like that.”
So, for those who write to me asking how I come up with things to write about, maybe the answer is that I just shake up my brain, too, and watch what comes out. You might amaze yourself. Start typing and see what your brain creates. If you go off in the wrong direction back up, hit delete and start again. The real secret in that is to let your brain loose.