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By Johannes Helmold

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railway track

No matter what you are writing, a novel or a research paper, it is important to keep the general direction of what you are doing in mind. It is surprisingly easy, even when having a goal, to get distracted, waste yourself on trifles, and find yourself at a dead end. Why does it happen?

I guess there are two main reasons for this, and these reasons are directly opposite to each other. The first reason is when you get so many ideas in the process of writing that, trying to include them all, you lose the main point of writing. Your writing becomes oversaturated with details, you try to logically incorporate all of them in what you write, and so you deviate from the main plot. The second reason is, on the contrary, not knowing what to write about; in this case, you pile up whatever you can think of, which leads to outcomes similar to the first reason: you get off track in your writing.

The first case usually refers to enthusiastic amateur writers—the second to students working on their thesis or other kinds of papers. Fortunately, there are ways to stay on track and keep your writing consistent.

1. Draw mind maps. This is perhaps the best tool for any writer. When I write a novel, I usually have a clear idea of how it’s going to start and what to end with, and everything in between remains unclear. I have to grope around the fog of my imagination. So, in order not to lose sight of my characters in it, I usually draw a roadmap, which is a little bit like a board game. In it, the beginning is a START cell, and the ending is FINISH. My characters’ motives, relationships, and backgrounds, as well as what happens to them, are Event Cards, and the actions characters commit are like steps a player takes after throwing the dice.

Okay, putting all the metaphors away, my mind maps look like this:

List of characters (with backgrounds, personality traits, and so on). They are connected with arrows, marking what kind of connection these characters have with each other (business, intimacy, random encounter, and so on).
A brief history of what each of the characters has done (includes only actions important for the plot or relationships with other characters).
On a separate sheet, a list of options regarding characters’ possible actions in the nearest chapters.

2. Always have clear plans for your novel/paper in general, and for each of the chapters/sections. Plans don’t necessarily need to be detailed, but if they cover key points, it’s enough. The plan is the backbone on which you plant the details, and on which you base your roadmap on. You can read more about plans here.

Basically, this is it. The technique is simple, but useful. I guess it’s more applicable for enthusiastic writers rather than for those who have little to say.

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