Once you’ve read through your notes and marked hot-spots, it’s time to move back into exploration, remembering that you’re working to grow your ideas by providing more detail and specificity wherever you can. Most writers, will spend the majority of their time in this period of expansion and the overlapping phase of shaping and revision described in the next post.
To start expanding your writing, pick one hot-spot you’d like to work with first, perhaps, the one that most sings out to you. You don’t even have to know why.
At the top of a fresh clean piece of paper, write this hot-spot out as a single word, short phrase, or complete sentence exactly as it already appears in your notes. For example, you might end up with something that looks like any of the following: “Blue,” “It should be…,” or “I like what I see.”
Whatever you put down will function as a starting point, a kind of title even for a new piece of writing. Use this title to open up more ideas, inviting yourself to unpack a moment in time and explore what else you have to say about those words, that phrase, or that sentence that now sits atop your page.
Continue to use the freewriting approach and don’t stress about grammar, spelling, or punctuation or even making sense at this point. You may not yet know in what direction your essay is heading, and that’s OK. You are still in the discovery phase and want to keep your subconscious present and doing a lot of the work for you, work that won’t happen if you’re being too critical or unkind about what you write.
Remember, it sometimes helps to use a timer. Decide for yourself how long you want to explore each hot-spot. Perhaps, ten minutes works best for you, or 20, or 30. Try committing to differing amounts of time to see what happens for you as a writer.
Experiment with writing in very large script. Try writing in very tiny, tiny letters. Which works best for you? Write very slowly. Write super fast. Which do you prefer?
We are still at play, still planting, and nurturing whatever appears, and coaxing our subconscious out and onto the field. Go through several cycles of selecting and expanding hot-spots until you have significantly more writing.
How many times should you do this? It’s hard to say. Setting aside this period of exploration could start with a small sensation that this phase is now complete. You’ll just know it’s time to move on. Do you see any themes emerging in your writing? What connections are starting to arise?
It could simply be that you simply finally run out of time for this activity. One moment, you’ll look at the clock or your calendar and realize you simply must move forward in order to get this essay done by its deadline.
Understand these questions are facing writers all over the world. Trust your instincts and let them be your guide. You are not alone!
*I was first introduced to the hot-spot technique by the author Kevin McIllvoy.