November 13th, 2020

Ways to Organize Your Thoughts for Writing

by Ellen Buikema

Have you ever had a story playing in your mind and wanted to retell it for the amusement of your friends? If you begin without knowing what statements to use and the specific order you’ll find yourself with a choppy, not-so-interesting mess. Taking time to organize our thoughts makes the difference between a great tale and a flop.

The act of writing makes the brain take notice.

Keep your favorite writing implement or other recording device nearby to capture those nuggets.

A teacher friend uses the Smart Recorder app on her smartphone to audibly record her thoughts. She transcribes her ideas later in the day and uses them in her lesson plans. The same can be done for characters, scene notes, or anything else related to your stories.

Here are a few other apps to check out to help organize your thoughts.

When too many ideas compete for dominance in your mind it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This may seem counterintuitive, but clearing your mind is a valuable method for organizing thought.

Methods to clear the mind

  • Meditate.  Meditation uses minimal time and frees your mind to focus on what’s really important. Start by finding a quiet location where you can relax for five minutes. With practice you can work up to twenty. Minute length isn’t as important as taking some time out of the day to relax.
  • Sit with your eyes closed and take calming breaths. Use a word or mantra to repeat in your mind to brush away the thoughts. The mantra can be any word that has no real significance to you. Some people use the word one. If you find that you’ve drifted from your mantra, gently go back to it. You’ll notice days when meditation doesn’t seem as calming. Those are the days you need it the most.
  • If you are not getting enough sleep, meditation will help fill some of that deficit.
  • 4 Square Breathing. This simple breathing technique can be done anywhere, anytime, and is a great stress reliever. Here is the technique:
    • Inhale four counts (four seconds)
    • Hold four counts
    • Exhale four counts
    • Hold four counts
    • Repeat 5 to 6 times
  • If desired you can increase the counts, further slowing your breathing.
  • This technique increases focus and concentration while organizing the pattern of breathing. It is a gentle workout for the nervous system, making us more responsive and less reactive.
  • Exercise. Exercising reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases endorphins which elevate mood and make focus easier to accomplish. That focus is necessary for organized thought.
  • Declutter. A cluttered workspace can induce stress. Take some time to clear your desk or work table and make sure to treat yourself afterward—chocolate, wine, a movie, pizza and beer. Whatever works!

Use methods that best suit YOU

How you decide to organize is tied in part to your favored methods to learn. No one way is best. Intelligence is displayed in different forms. Most people show their intelligence in multiple areas.

Here are some organizational suggestions based on Howard Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

  • Visual-Spatial – Use mind maps, charts, colors, and pictures for organizing notes.
  • Linguistic-Verbal – Keep a journal. This is particularly helpful if you write before sleeping. Your brain will continue to work out issues during sleep.
  • Logical-Mathematical – Use outlines, numeric charts and graphs for notes.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic – Act out or imagine concepts. Anything physical cements ideas.
  • Musical – Listen to music while you write. Mood music for scenes will make a positive difference.
  • Interpersonal – Brainstorm ideas with other people. Sharing information will clarify thoughts.
  • Intrapersonal – Work in a quiet venue. Too many people drain your energy. As with Linguistic-Verbal intelligence, journaling helps.
  • Naturalistic – If possible work in an area with a view or an outdoorsy poster. Taking time to enjoy plants or playing with a pet will relax your mind and organizing will follow.
  • Existential – Meditation will help with the deep dives needed to answer intense questions, freeing you to work on mundane thoughts.

Getting your thoughts down

  • On paper, whiteboard, or electronic device, make a list of everything accumulating in your head. Use the technique from the list above that works best for you.
  • Step back and treat yourself to something fun that has nothing to do with your project. A short time away as a gift to yourself for a job well started will allow you to relax.
  • When calm, ideas flow with less resistance. Pushing too hard enhances frustration, shutting off the creative juices.

How do you organize your thoughts? What do you use to clear your mind of cluttered thoughts? Share your favorite techniques with us down in the comments section!

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.

Find her at http://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

10 responses to “Ways to Organize Your Thoughts for Writing”

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    Thanks for this post, Ellen! I particularly liked the Theory of Multiple Intelligences - I see this all time with kids, that they are naturally good at very different things. I'm always so sad when the Bodily-Kinesthetic kids get pushed to be Logical-Mathematical, or some other version of that. I know they need to exercise every part of the brain, but for the kids you watch grow up, you can literally watch some of their natural abilities get squashed.

    • Ellen Buikema says:

      I hear you! I was a Resource Specialist Program Teacher, RSP, in four States. Many of my students were Bodily-Kinesthetic kids. I referred to B-K as Full-Body learners, which made more sense to the parents. You need more room for students who have strengths in this area. We did all kinds of interesting things, like writing in the air using right and left hands to entertain both sides of the brain.
      Actually, many of us are Full-Body learners, we've merely adjusted over time.

  2. Eldred Bird says:

    Organizing my thoughts can be real challenge, so I plan on trying a few of these methods. What I do currently is use a talk-to-text app on my phone to get ideas documented in the moment, usually while taking a walk or shopping. To clear my head I go for long walks or bike rides. It gives my body something to do while my brain clears out the mess.

  3. dholcomb1 says:

    I use a combination which includes a journal, notes, post-its, music, etc...

    denise

  4. jamesr403 says:

    Excellent essay, Ellen! I remember the first time I saw a "visual-spatial" outline. I was at a convention and walked past a writer named Robert Ray, who I'd taken classes from. I was going to say hello & decided not to when I saw he was working on an outline that was circles with lines connecting them so I didn't interrupt. That's not an outline format for me -- I'm too linear! But it works for him.
    Thanks!

  5. Thanks, Ellen, for the great information, as always! Much like Eldred and Laura, I try to untangle my scattered thoughts out on bike rides, and sometimes runs. I'll stop periodically and voice text them into my Notes app. The notes are usually simple bullet points of the thoughts hitting me at the time, so I don't lose them. It keeps me from worrying that when I get home and the endorphins are gone, that the ideas will be gone. I usually try to get one scene per Note page, so that when I get home I can print the pages off and play with the scenes.

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