Our family and friends adopted a Syrian family a year and a half ago. One of the major challenges they faced was learning English. It’s not an easy language to acquire, especially when you have to learn a completely different alphabet and everything that goes with it.
The dad has had more of a challenge than other members of the family. To help him along with his English, we’ve downloaded a language program as well as directed him to several other sources, mostly on YouTube. As well, he’s been watching several movies, some with subtitles. It is making a difference. His self esteem and enthusiasm are building. Through this process he is becoming much more comfortable with English, and more creative.
Where my ideas come from
I’ve always found that I get a lot of my ideas from reading, particularly magazines that deal with entrepreneurship and technological advances, such as Fast Company, Wired, Inc., Entrepreneur and Forbes to name a few. My collection of books keeps expanding as I keep discovering ‘must reads’. My wife usually gets her ideas from movies and television, as her expertise is writing video documentary and educational material. She’s an avid reader, far more than I am, and I know that spurs her imagination.
What sources do you use?
I invariably find something that’s new, that’s of interest in whatever I read. Maybe I can’t use it now, but I’ll file it away for another occasion. But let me ask you? What sources – books, movies, TV shows, magazines, bloggers and so on – do you use? And do you ask for recommendations from your friends, your teachers, your coaches, your parents?
Is it authentic?
I don’t have to tell you how much material is available to you today. The question arises as to its authenticity. For example, are you confident that it isn’t “fake news”? Are the authors/creators credible? Is what’s written supported by valid facts? Since so much is open to who is interpreting the information, you’d better be careful of the direction you’re leaning.
For me, the presentation's very important
What I really like about first rate sources is not so much as whether I agree or disagree with what I’m reading, but how it’s presented. I’m a stickler for accessibility. Can I easily follow what I’m reading? Am I enjoying the experience? I have a problem with dense material. Too often it looks like a paragraph with no end in sight. Rather than wade through it, I’ll skip it.
Here’s what I want to leave you with. Keep looking for material that will enhance not only what you’re working on, but your own learning. And wherever possible set aside time to do that on a regular basis. As writers will tell you, it’s grist for the mill. And one day, maybe today, it will come in handy.
There’s a problem with research. It can stop you getting into action. What do I mean by that? I’ve been talking about creativity and the use of Mind Maps to help determine the content for what you’re working on – essay, report, term paper, proposal – and the sequence of presenting it.
Before you get to the Mind Map, you’ll spend a chunk of time researching what you need to know. And therein lies the problem. Some of us, given half the chance, would spend all our time on research, whether that’s on recommended texts, recognized periodicals, or simply digging in to Google and see where it takes us. Anyone can get lost in Google. All these sources can not only direct us to appropriate material, but material that in turn takes us to yet more sources and so on.
Where do you stop? How many times have you said “I need to do more research.” And maybe you do. But where do you draw the line? Right up to the last minute when you know that essay has to be handed in or that proposal delivered to a client?
My concern is that research does not take you to action; to actually getting that essay written, or that proposal delivered to the client. One of the reasons deadlines work is that they force you to get into the actual doing – writing the essay itself, crafting the proposal.
What does it take? Discipline on your part, on my part. It’s saying I can’t get this written work done by the due date unless the research is done by X. It’s a self imposed deadline. So when you’re figuring out your timeline for completing whatever the project, make sure you give yourself time for the action part – the doing.
I still run into trouble on this one. And though I go into this quite extensively in “Ten Steps to Help You Write Better Essays & Term Papers”, it still bears repeating.
We don’t have to be soloists all the time. That’s the message to those of us that think we have to come up with ideas all by ourselves. I’m one of them. Obviously, much of the time it’s a selfish preoccupation – figuring out what you’re going to say. As a freelance writer I know what that’s about. I’ve done that for years. But what if it’s a group effort?
When dealing with a proposal or report or an essay project, it’s often the case that a group of you are involved. You’re discussing all the ramifications, what you think, what others think, what you’ve read or heard. And you’re digesting what you’ve learned. But then can come that amazing decision to brainstorm what you’ve got, what’s missing, new ideas.
That is, or can be, the huge advantage of a group. Especially if it’s a diversified group where viewpoints are not necessarily the same; where experiences are different; where education backgrounds can, and often do, dictate unexpected responses.
Heed the rules
If you are going to brainstorm, there are rules to follow, and the most important deals with listening. Let me explain. Many of us, when listening, are simply figuring out whether we agree with the speaker or not, and whether to add to their comments, or counteract with our own viewpoint. The rule is, we listen only, we don’t interrupt, and we focus on what’s being said. End of story.
Brainstorming is not about being right. Brainstorming is getting every idea, every thought out and recorded. That thought process must not be interrupted. Someone takes the role of recorder and notes down what’s said on paper, on a whiteboard, on a computer.
The group contributes the ideas, however bizarre or off base some of those ideas and thoughts may sound. Only then can they be analyzed and discussed. Only then can you see whether they will contribute to the project at hand, or not. In my experience, several ideas that made no sense at all for one project, opened up possibilities for others.
I’ve appreciated working with a group of people on many projects. The results are invariably better or add to something that I’ve done. If I have any regrets, it’s that I’ve not done enough with others. What’s your take? Would brainstorming benefit your next project, whether it’s an essay, report or proposal? I suggest you try it.
We make things difficult for ourselves. Well I do, anyway, unless I take steps to avoid it.
I’m talking about setting up content for some project I’m working on. That could be a proposal, an email, an essay (unlikely since I’m not in school though I could be developing a rant for the local newspaper), or a blog like this. But it applies to any of the above.
I fail to organize it from the get go. Oh sure, I have the thoughts spinning around in my head, daytime, while I’m sleeping, you’ve done it I’m sure. But that doesn’t move things forward and I want order. And I want flow. I have to get it down on paper and then play with it. By this time I’ve done the research – I’ve got notes on paper, some I’ve saved on Word, so I sort of know what I’ve got, except, it isn’t organized.
I know I have to get to a linear sequence for the writing to work. In between all those notes and saved files there’s a gap – determining what that sequence is. I’ve found that my best way to come up with this sequence is using a Mind Map. Why? Because I can put all those disparate sources of information into a Mind Map. Then I can study that Map and figure out what the priorities are, number them, and how they connect. If you’ve never done it, you might want to try it.
A tip about Mind Maps. If you do a Google search you’ll see plenty of examples. Many of them are far too complex. Look for simplicity. In our book for students, “Ten Steps to Help You Write Better Essays & Term Papers”, we’ve kept the process and examples simple and clear.
My overall point? Make sure you get organized with your work. It’ll save you a lot of grief, and time.
“I’m not creative. I don’t have a creative gene in my body. My DNA came without one.” Right!
That’s the kind of comment you might get from a student in his sophomore year and who’s the college quarterback. He has an essay to write and he’s stuck.
Creativity takes so many forms. But it’s also transferable. Our quarterback may have forgotten that. In fact, so many of us believe we can’t think creatively in developing an essay on whatever the topic, yet we can figure out how to fake a throw to a wide receiver while shifting the ball to someone completed unmarked, and score a touchdown. Isn’t that creativity?
Or figure out a way to make an effective protest about rising tuition to a college administration?
When you have to come up with an answer, our minds are extraordinarily flexible. And that’s something many students have to remember in writing an essay. You first put the mind in gear by posing the question at hand, and then shift it into first, reverse or four-wheel drive. That’s when things start to percolate, when ideas have a habit of breaking through.
Where do you drive, what direction? It’s amazing what unique environments will do. Go to the beach, to a quiet garden, a noisy restaurant, to a different library. That environment in itself can generate ideas, possibilities you had not considered. Bright sun, rain, frost and snow all present possibilities that can impact that essay topic. So can the clothes you wear – casual, formal, rain gear.
As readers will know, I like to use Mind Maps to get my ideas down on any subject with which I’m working. You can too. Sometimes that can be annoying because it can lead you into a direction that you had not expected or ever considered. But that in turn is magical, because now you’re curious, wondering where it will lead, wondering if and how it will reshape your original thesis with unexpected or “wrong” conclusions.
That’s creativity. It’s throwing options your way, opening avenues yet to be explored. And regardless whether you’re a football player, a pianist, a games player, whatever – you are creative. All you have to do is flex that mind of yours, and watch what happens.
There you are – exams are coming up. Some are mid terms, some are finals.
When I was at school I didn’t have quite the same stresses as students face today. For one thing we didn’t have computers with all the expectations of delivering an assignment overnight. It was typewriters or more likely, good old handwriting. I’ll tell you this, though. That good old handwriting comes in very handy when you’re not sure how to begin an assignment.
If you’ve read my stuff before, you’ll know how much I believe in using Mind Maps. For me, the easiest way to create a Mind Map is with a blank page and putting the title of the assignment right in the middle. And then, just play with the elements of that assignment.
You simply brainstorm the main points that come to mind. You then break out those points into their separate components or niches.
Next, determine the priority of each niche and you’ve got a basis and sequence on which to write the assignment.
The key here is, of course, to take action, to actually start. Using a Mind Map can be one of the best ways to do so, and get some of the stress out of your system at the same time.