Spiral-writing: Getting To The Heart Of It

I have always imagined that at the very eye of the funnel cloud, you will find what the storm is really trying to say …

Do you remember being in elementary school, and first hearing about brainstorming? And then being in high school and hearing about it again? And then maybe in one of your first meetings at work, in a team-planning stage, you were asked to brainstorm ideas for your project? Making those bubble-clouds on the board, all reaching and stemming out from one central word, until it looked like you were drawing the anatomy of veins + clouds, but with words attached?

Guess what? I am hear to talk to you about brainstorming again. Except this time I am calling it spiral-storming©–a term I am coining here to describe how we go from abstract terms separate from ourselves, to very specific language that describes our close-up, unique, and personal angle on the topic. Sort of like the difference between the abstract word “grief” and describing a very specific moment of grief. So, spiral-storming is very much like the brainstorming principle–it allows you to start with broad and general terms, and get more and more specific, until you are spiralling down in a funnel each time, a microscope honing in on the eye of the storm–honing in on what you are really trying to say. What you really mean to say.

In writing there is a really important question we can ask ourselves as we write: “What is it that I am really trying to say?” Or “What do I really mean?” This question has saved me countless times writing stories, poems, essays, blog posts, and more. This question allows writers and bloggers to gain a deeper sense of what they are saying and trying to get across to their audience.

Let me give you an example, to help you follow along with me. Think of spirals of sand, a snail’s shell, the clouds and wind on the verge of a funnel. And imagine that your thoughts are approaching your writing– a blog post, story, article, essay–we often start out broad, and then spiral in closer and closer to our very close-to-home point. The more we write, the more we circle in on what it is “we really trying to say.” Sometimes we do this by drawing circles or bubble-clouds on a page, sometimes on a huge white board, and sometimes on a wall or table with colourful post-it notes.

Imagine, for example, that I am writing about a day on the water. I might start by writing something like ‘the day was beautiful and the sky was blue’. And then I pause and write: What am I really trying to say? I am trying to say that the blue was the colour of the sea in Greece. What am I am I really trying to say? That the blue reminds me of a day in Greece, when my cousin was about to get married, and she told me that someday, when she had kids, she wanted me to be their godmother. What do I mean by that? That the blue reminds me of my cousin, who died the following summer, and how she never had those children, and how we’ve never gotten over it. And so forth.

You see how that question brings you closer to the truth of the meaning you want to get across, and don’t always even know that moment of clarity until you dig deeper?

Well for writers and for bloggers, spiral-storming can do exactly the same thing. You start with a word in the centre, let’s say blue. You put blue in the centre of the page, and you brainstorm around it. You might come up with words like sea-blue, and Greece, and vacation, and summer.

Then you choose one of those words, and put that at the centre of the page, and brainstorm further. You might choose Greece, and that might lead you to family vacation, cousin, wedding, love. And then you might put cousin at the centre of the page, and this might lead you to brainstorm best friend, wedding, tumour, loss, grief, cannot breathe, miss her, and more.

Suddenly the very abstract and universal term grief has become more nuanced and specific to your personal potrayal of a close-to-home ance sincere grief moment. One that your audience can empathize with and relate to.

As you keep brainstorming, you are essentially spiralling down, diving deeper into meaning, reaching for what is true, and real, and essential, and exactly the honest truth of what you are trying to say. It is very similar to writing “what do I really mean by that?” It challenges you to get more honest with yourself, more real.

This is what we call authentic writing. It leads to vulnerability. This is what will make your reader want to stay with you, read more, connect with you more fully.

This is what you want. This is the best place for a writer and blogger to be.

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Some stories from home, some from travel adventures (usually in autumn), some happening in community, friendship and faith, and some about the vulnerable, lonely and excluded. To honour them because they have changed me for the better and taught me how to love more fully and be loved more fully. Some days are great, some good, some not always good. But overall, it's been a beautiful journey so far, and I feel more like myself every day. -- Debra, writer / photographer / blogger / traveller

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