The Islands and Bridges Strategy

There are two kinds of articles: Clear Thesis articles where you know exactly what you’re going to say before you start writing, and Foggy Intuition ones where writing helps you discover what you think. 

Foggy Intuition articles are harder because you have to start writing before you have the answers. Since you don’t know how the ideas connect, you can’t make an outline either. You have to jump into typing. Only by creating an archipelago of ideas will you discover what you think. I know that sounds daunting, but you can usually write well about individual sections of the essay before you know how the ideas connect. 

Start by externalizing your disjointed thoughts on a subject. Even with this post, I knew that the two kinds of articles I discussed above (Clear Thesis and Foggy Intuition) were connected to the “Islands and Bridges Strategy,” but I didn’t know how to communicate the relationship between them. Instead of starting with an outline, I started with a collection of intellectual islands knowing that I could bridge them eventually.

 


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Get your thoughts on paper. You can write an unlimited number of islands. As you write your islands, reduce the interdependencies between them. That way, you can rearrange the order of the islands once you find a structure for your essays. If I want to create a physical structure, I’ll represent each island with a Post-It note and write about one island per day. To keep the sections modular, avoid referencing yourself with phrases like “earlier in this essay” or “in conclusion.” If you need them, add them later. 

Once you find a structure for your essay, link the islands with bridges, which are short transitions that connect two ideas. The longer your piece, the longer your bridges need to be. I write my bridges as late in the writing process as possible because writing changes my perspective on a topic which leads me to rearrange my islands. 

Just as entrepreneurs don’t wait to start a company until they know exactly how they’re going to build it, writers shouldn’t wait until they know exactly what every sentence is going to look like. By helping you write before all your ideas are clear, the Islands and Bridges Strategy will give you the license to tackle ambitious essays. 


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