When my kids were little they didn’t really like the LEGO sets that require you to put the bricks together a certain way to create a specific thing, like a Death Star. They preferred giant quantities of individual bricks so they could snap them together and build whatever they wanted.
And this is the brilliance of LEGO: its modular approach. The sets are super cool, but as long as you have bricks of any shape or color, you have the elements you need to build. Click them together to try out one way before breaking them apart to connect them in a new configuration to see if you like that result better.
Modular Approach to Writing
This modular approach to building is an approach I suggest you apply to writing—especially if you’re finding it hard to begin a project or you’re stuck in the middle of one.
Or maybe your brain doesn’t think in a linear or sequential way. If so, this solution helps you develop your draft without having to commit to an orderly process at first.
Write Discrete Units—Your Bricks
Each “brick” of writing is a unit that will comprise the bigger project. This unit could be a scene for fiction; a paragraph for an essay or article; a stanza or even just a line for a poem; or a subsection of a chapter for a nonfiction book.
Once you know what project you’re working on, write what comes to mind. If you’re working on a novel, write a scene. If you don’t know what to follow it with, don’t worry. Write another scene knowing it doesn’t have to connect with the one you just wrote–at least, not right now. You can fill in the missing pieces later. Right now, write what you can write.
Just as you’d toss some LEGO bricks on the floor to start building a castle, these scenes are the blocks you’ll use to build your story. Each one you write is a discrete element you’ll use to construct the final draft.
Same with an essay or the chapter of a nonfiction book. Write an analogy that supports one of your contentions. Add your thoughts related to a quote you’re planning to use. Compose a personal story that relates to the theme.
All of those serve as standalone segments, sections, or blocks related to that project that can be moved around at any point.
Build Your Draft
When you’ve written enough that you can see the project taking shape, lay out all the blocks of text you wrote by printing them and cutting apart each segment.
Or, you can rearrange them on the computer screen by cutting and pasting, moving them up and down to insert in various ways.
Digital saves paper and ink, but in this building stage, many writers prefer working with physical pieces of paper. They like to spread out their paragraphs or stanzas or scenes on a table or on the floor so they can see it forming.
Try it first in one order, shuffling a paragraph or stanza up or down.
Read it through. How does it sound? Would it work better in another order?
Keep reordering segments and reading through the new version, then dismantle it and try another combination to figure out what works best.
Brick by brick, you can piece together your work-in-progress; block by block you build your draft.
Write the Missing Pieces
At some point, you’ll land on a combination with potential. You can see it coming together in front of you; if you read it aloud, you’ll hear it making sense. It may be missing a section needed for context, continuity, or logic, or it may need additional phrases to clarify an idea, but it’s taking shape.
This development phase is the perfect time to discover what’s needed and simply write another brick, another chunk of writing, and insert it into your creation.
If your short story needs a flashback scene, write it now.
If your poem lost its rhythm, write another line.
If your essay leaps to a conclusion, write another paragraph to include supporting evidence.
Add what’s missing and you’re almost done.
You’re so close to the final product, but you know it’s not quite there, not even with the insertion of this new material you’ve written to fill in the gaps. Because your draft wasn’t written sequentially, it’ll probably read a little clunky in places.
No problem. Smooth it out.
- Transitions will help move the reader from one idea or paragraph to the next, so you can add those in..
- Watch for repetition. When you write sections that touch on a similar topic, theme, character, or interaction, you may end up with similar ideas, sounds, wording, phrasing. You can combine things or eliminate others.
- Revise sentences to mix things up when you realize two units read with similar sound or pacing. It’s an easy solution; simply construct some sentences in a different way.
In this stage, you may still move around a block of text, but more likely you’re refining the ideas and the style. You’re in editing mode, putting the final touches on this project you built block by block.
Start Anywhere with the Modular Approach
This isn’t the fastest, most efficient way to write, but when your brain won’t follow a straight line or crank out a tidy outline, the modular approach can get ideas flowing as you produce chunks of text you can use to build your draft.
You have to start somewhere. Just realize it doesn’t always have to be at the beginning. With the modular approach, you can start anywhere.