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Growing and Expanding Ideas

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

“At the top of the page I wrote my full name [...] At the sight of it, many thoughts rushed through me, but I could write down only this: "I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it." And then as I looked at this sentence a great deal of shame came over me and I wept and wept so much that the tears fell on the page and caused all the words to become one great big blur.”

―Jamaica Kincaid, Writer

Now you’ve got ideas on paper. In other words, you’ve planted seeds. This is no time to let shame get in the way. Or rather, it’s a time to recognize that even that which we feel a great deal of shame about can be a powerful nutrient for more writing. It’s from precisely this soil, more writing can grow.

One of my favorite teachers* introduced me to a powerful technique for growing my own writing. He called it looking for hot-spots. Shame is a kind of heat and so is delight. So go back through your initial writing and look for the heat––anything that stands out to you for any reason.

Hot-spots let you recognize what is already there in an open, non-judgmental way and to harness that energy into the production of more writing. It can be done on your own or in small groups or pairs. Do you have a trusted someone with whom you can exchange your notes from phase one? If so, you can also ask partners to mark places where they experience a hot-spot in your writing. What do they want to hear more about? Where do they see opportunities for slowing down and adding more detail? If they’ve been writing with you, you can do the same for them. Often we can find hot-spots in another person’s writing more easily than we can in our own.


Having names for the different types of hot-spots can make them easier to see. Here are a few types I’ve named for myself.

Hot-spots that Invite More Detail

This is best described as a place in your writing where it’s possible to slow down. Perhaps, you can create a little scene, like in a movie, to open a specific moment in time with more vivid detail. You are now writing for a worldwide audience, and not every reader you want to reach will be familiar with your particular piece of it. Slowing down at a hot-spot and offering more description can help a reader more fully experience your world, letting them see, taste, touch, hear, and smell it. Your language has the power to ignite imaginations!

Hot-spots that Induce Anxiety

Anxiety is another kind of energy all together. Here, the writer isn’t encountering gentle warmth in their writing but intense heat, a sensation that something is too complicated for words or is already wrong. This is a place that a writer will want to avoid, even as her language sings out for more focus. Encountering one of these spots in a text might create fear, fatigue, nausea, or irritability, even shame. For readers, though, these are often the most exciting spots in a draft, a place where the writer has been unable to hide. Greater exposure on a writer’s part is often the best response. Sometimes, the more vulnerable we are in our writing, the easier it is for readers to connect with our ideas.

Hot-spots that Confuse Meaning Just a Little

For the writer, this spot is usually the easiest to ignore. It’s is a small place––one word or a short phrase––where the writer wished to say something clearly but clarity was not achieved. Encountering such a spot may make the writer feel clumsy, but because it seems so small and inconsequential in comparison to the larger work, she may avoid drawing on the energy that lives there. Nevertheless, if the writer opens the door and enters the smoky room, she may find flames with the power to transform an entire piece. Here the writer learns what she’s been meaning to say all along.

As you work to recognize hot-spots, you may end up developing your own names for what you find in your writing. Bring new names to the energy you find in your work. As in the very first phase, work with approaches that suit you best.

Now, set aside some time and go through your writing looking for hot-spots. Make it a goal to locate at least a half-dozen, maybe even 12 or more, by end of this activity.

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