Public notebook

Unstructured writing and thinking

It’s interesting working with your children on their revision. You get to re-learn basic French, discover the reason you learnt algebra (in order to help your children revise algebra, apparently) and also the basics of structuring narratives and essays.

Much of my blogging – when it breaks out* – is off the cuff, exploring an idea through prose. Very often I’ll cut the concluding part of a blog post and paste it to the beginning of the post and then change the headline. By the end of the post, I’ve actually figured out what the post is about.

My children have been taught to write a small plan for their essays and stories at the beginning, even – or especially – in exams. It’s something I could do with trying out more in some of my writing, I guess. Although when I write texts longer than a couple of thousand words I write in a plan – using Scrivener.

Choosing when to write in a structured and an unstructured way is important. Unstructured writing can be a formidable tool for reflection and exploring an idea. As I wrote recently on Medium, I’ve started using journal-like writing instead of using priority lists and plans to work what needs to be focused on and to work my way through complex issues and problems.

Writing in an unstructured way like this – starting a piece of writing without knowing where you are going – helps the subconscious get involved, while allowing the conscious mind to create a little order, a little post-rationalisation for gut-feel decisions, or a little pre-emptive rationalising to set the stage for big decisions to be made.

Writing in an unstructured way is basically a conversation with yourself. But without the rocking, muttering and shouted expletives that can make colleagues feel uncomfortable and draw the attention of the authorities, if you live in a society where mental health issues are noted and help given by the state. Social accpetable external monologuing, then.

* I am currently experiencing perfect conditions for blogging: (1) I am ill, which always seems to help – I started this blog in 2005 when I was bed-bound with ‘flu – body in ruins, but mind impatient to get on with something; (2) the aforementioned revision with the kids: my son’s revising for exams so now our living room has transformed from a games and TV entertainment hub into a quiet study centre – it’s nice that even with a headful of cold I can sit down here with them and read and write. Maybe I should make this permanent. They’d hate me forever, but we’d all get a lot of work done; (3) I’m trying out new tech – my half-term, man ‘flu-constrained personal project is to rationalise the large number of writing apps I have on my devices and settle on one or two. I might write about the results of that later…


By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com.