Using sub-sections to get writing done and learn more about the world

I’m once again alone with my writing. In long texts especially it is possible to feel lost, and also on the screen, where you scroll on and on and back and back. You can certainly have written a lot; but then it begins to lose form, and you begin to wonder where it is going. I am pleased to be making lots of points; but it was getting increasingly difficult to see where they were as the text got denser and denser.

Then I begin to find ways through which both bring out the points, make the text more coherent and also help me to get through writing blocks.

The first thing is to put in sub-headings. Doing this serves as a thematic analysis of what I’m writing. At least one per page. If I use automatic headings, I also get a map of what I’ve written on the sidebar. These can be deleted later. Their immediate purpose is to give me an immediate visual reminder of the points I’m making. I can also keep them if they become sufficiently substantial to make the text more readable.

The sub-headings also force me to make more explicit statements about what is going on. We have always been taught that each sub-section, which the headings create, should have a key sentence at the beginning and a conclusion at the end. My authorial voice begins to come out more effectively.

This also helps me to re-organise so that the content becomes more and more grouped to match the sub-headings.

I can then begin to see better the form and flow of what I’m writing. The subheadings help me to see a bigger picture and to move around the sub-sections, which are in effect blocks of ideas, so that they too are sequenced better.

But this is not just to help me see better what I am writing. It also helps me to develop the ideas themselves – to make them crisper and more relevant. This visibility of ideas helps me to think of other things that I can include and to think of new connections through a process of juxtaposition.

If I’m writing about data, if I already have sub-thematic headings that have emerged from analysis – as they should – it will help me to adjust or even change the naming or the sub-themes as I think of other bits of data with which I can make new connections.

As I was doing these sorts of things over the last month, I suddenly realised that I had the makings of a new chapter that I hadn’t thought of before. And with the new chapter came new connections that took me into directions that I hadn’t imagined. There now seems to be a new dynamic shape emerging. 

Finally, all of this positioning, blocking, connecting, re-connecting, juxtaposing, in writing implies the same with the world that you are writing about. Demarcating junks of text and then seeing how they are set against each other helps to do the same with the social or whatever world you are writing about – setting apart and connecting the elements so that they can speak to each other in new ways and taking you unto new understandings.

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