Clustering or brainstorming your way to writing success

Paul tackles the topics of your internal critic and creativity and writing in a number of his books. including Fundamentals of Writing, Harness the Business Writing Process, Copywriting that Works and Unblock Writer’s Block. You can read about his books online at paullima.com/books.

In this post, we tackle clustering, a form of brainstorming (also called mind mapping or word association). Clustering lets you brainstorm in a visual manner. When clustering, you jot down (using a specific method) all the words you associate with a given topic, key word or phrase. The goal is to get down on paper all you know and associate with your key word. Once again, work quickly—without censoring yourself. That means you might jot down some words or phrases that seem “silly.” For instance, if your key word is “agriculture” and one of the words that comes to mind is “Batman,” that’s not a problem. Jot it down and keep on clustering. You never know where these so-called silly words will lead. So, whatever comes up, goes down!

How Do You Cluster?
Here is what to do when given your keyword or phrase:
– Jot it down in the middle of a blank page, underline it and circle it.
– Draw a short line (more like a long dash) from your keyword and jot down the first word or phrase that comes to mind.
– Circle that word or phrase (optional).
– Draw a short line from that word or phrase, and jot down the next word or phrase that comes to mind.
– Repeat until you come to the end of the cluster string of associated words (in other words, until you go blank).
– Return to your keyword.
– Moving quickly, draw a short line from your keyword and jot down the next word or phrase that comes to mind.
– Circle that word or phrase, draw a short line from that word or phrase and carry on … .

How many cluster strings should you create? It is up to you. The goal is to move as quickly as possible, without censoring, so you can get down as many words or phrases as possible that you associate with your keyword.

Why do you do this? Because it beats looking out the window waiting for inspiration to strike.

Clustering and freefalling are active methods of inspiring creative ideas. You are, in effect, mining for words and phrases that will help you develop your ad theme.

If your concept (keyword) appeals to your target audience, so will many of your cluster words. For instance, used in ads, words that appeal to your target market are like landmarks. They help the target market identify with the product or service you are advertising and keep the target market interested or engaged in your ad.

Below is a key word that I’d like you to use for your first cluster. Get a blank sheet of paper, jot down your key word and then cluster for five to ten minutes. Keep your mind open. Begin your clustering starting with the following key word:

Heart

Once you have clustered for five or ten minutes, continue to read.

Below is another key word that I’d like you to use for your second cluster. Get a blank sheet of paper, jot down your key word and then cluster for five to ten minutes. Keep your mind open and your censor at bay. Begin your clustering starting with the following keyword:

Writing

Once you have clustered for five or ten minutes, continue to read.

Here are several other keywords you can use to keep on clustering:
– Me
– Apple
– Help
– Writing
– Summer (or any season you wish to use)
– Money
– Chocolate
– Spider
– Mother (or Father or any sibling)

I’m sure you can come up with dozens of words or phrases you can use as keywords. Cluster for about five minutes (or longer if you really get into it) each time, or work until your clustering exercise feels complete.

All the best with your clustering. I hope it helps you find ideas you can write about or helps unblock blocks that might be inhibiting your writing. After you cluster a word try  freefalling on the topic to see where that takes you. If you are preparing a business document, cluster a word or phrase associated with the topic, and then produce a detailed outline before you start to write.

Read about Paul Lima’s books on writing at paullima.com/books.

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2 thoughts on “Clustering or brainstorming your way to writing success

  1. Pingback: Off The Wire: News for the Canadian media freelancer April 1-7

  2. Pingback: Create an outline before you write | Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing

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