Episode #46: What’s the Big Idea?
Whether you start writing and discover what you want to say as the words spill out, or you outline and plot it all out in advance, either way, you probably have a big idea.
With the first method, you may not be able to articulate it up front, but I’ll bet some spark of a driving thought sent you to the screen or the page. As you write, the big idea becomes clearer and clearer.
If you are the latter personality as a writer—the outliner or plotter—you probably couldn’t organize your material if you didn’t have that controlling idea.
Back in high school and college, the big idea might have been called the controlling idea or the thesis. Remember the thesis? You were probably trained to express it as one sentence—a statement that is, in fact, arguable. The thesis statement expresses the big idea of your project in that one sentence and then you set out to explore and support this statement.
That seems so…academic.
Author and writing coach Jack Hart’s approach is less academic and more practical. He explains:
I always start every piece of writing I do by thinking about what is the core thing that I really want to say. And the first thing that I always write is theme—the word theme, t-h-e-m-e, colon—and then try to come up with a theme statement that is a simple subject-predicate-object sentence that is my core idea.
It probably will never appear in print, so there’s no angst associated with it. It’s not for public consumption. But it’s right there on the top of my screen to guide me all through the writing process…it’s a lot easier to write if you know where you’re headed.
In his book A Writer’s Coach, Hart offers an example of a theme statement:
EX: [SUBJECT] [TRANSITIVE VERB] [OBJECT]
[The myth of the perfect first line] [obscures] [the importance of focus and organization]
So that sentence—The myth of the perfect first line obscures the importance of focus and organization—appears at the top of his screen, to remind him where he’s headed.
Next time you set out to write, consider writing at the top of your screen your controlling idea, your theme statement, your thesis, or, simply, your big idea. Let that guide you. Because it’s a lot easier to write, if you know where you’re headed.
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- “Getting into the Writing Game, With Words of Advice From a Coach” (interview with Jack Hart)
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