Strategies for Discovering New Ideas

Strategies for Discovering New Ideas

Few writers begin writing with a complete understanding of a subject. Most use writ- ing as a means of discovery — that is, as a way to learn about the subject, trying out ideas and information they have collected, exploring connections and implications, and reviewing what they have written in order to expand and develop their ideas.

When I start a project, the first thing I do is write down, in longhand, everything I know about the subject, every thought I’ve ever had on it. This may be twelve or fourteen pages. Then I read it through, for quite a few days . . . then I try to find out what are the salient points that I must make. And then it begins to take shape. — MAYA ANGELOU

Writing, then, is not something you do after thinking, but in order to help you think. Writers often reflect on this so-called generative aspect of writing, echoing E. M. Forster’s much repeated adage: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Here are some other versions of the same insight:

Every book that I have written has been an education, a process of discovery. — AMITAV GHOSH

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