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23 Discover Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.­ —Henry Miller First you have an idea, a need, or an assignment . . . or a line or an image sticks in your head or two words butt up against each other in an interesting way. Every piece of writing has to start somewhere. We have to answer the question, What are we going to write about? A damaging writing myth says that great ideas appear full-blown in dreams or opium reveries like the one that supposedly inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write his poem “Kubla Kahn.” If you’re lucky, you do get an “Aha!” moment in the shower or on the treadmill occasionally, a moment that leaves your head full of something that might turn into a piece of writing, if you can remember it until you get a chance to write it down. But you may never write a word if you passively wait for that light bulb to go on, illuminating a complete, brilliant idea. 168    MOves No, you’re not likely to write first draft “A” papers in college, even if you did so in high school. You may have to coax inspiration, sneak up on it with small steps, alert to the faint glimmer of an Aha! bulb, open to all the unlikely forms that good luck and good ideas can take. To engage in the process of discovering, you must be ready to see the story, the question, the answer, in the most unlikely places and at the most inconvenient times. Writers simply need to be more aware, more sensitive to details, than other people. Most good writing results from a writer’s desire to know, understand, or express. Writers thrive on more than just an assignment or other external motivation ; most need to find a topic that matters to them, that’s meaningful beyond class and school. What are the facts about adding fluoride to public water systems , as happened in the city where you grew up? Can you make sense of why you and your siblings responded so differently to your parents’ divorce? What’s the rationale for the math requirement that’s giving you such trouble? It’s worth investigating any approach that will lead to a good idea. All the discovering moves in this chapter are low-cost, low-stress, low-expertise approaches that transfer to other writing situations. So try them. Be playful. Have fun. Purposes of Discovering For many writers, discovering is the most fun, most energizing part of the writing process. Discovering a subject you’ve long wanted to explore or a detail you’ve forgotten can be as exciting as discovering a new rock band, making a new friend, or finding a hidden waterfall or great Thai restaurant. You have to start somewhere, but it certainly doesn’t have to be at the beginning . The conclusion might come to you first: “Divorce affects teenagers more than other children.” Or perhaps you have in your mind a voice that’s going to tell the story for you, taking an aunt’s view of a divorce rather than a child’s. Or maybe to get going you need to find a detail that really moves you or symbolizes the whole issue—the day your father missed your school play because he was pursuing his “other interests.” If you’re assigned a writing topic or subject, you may need to discover some way that it relates to you, some way to make it your own . . . and have fun with it. Discovery is logically the first step in a writing process, but in a successful, enjoyable process it may be part of every step—revision can yield many discoveries , as can coming up with a title or laying an article out on a page. Some writers are tempted to skip discovery and just write whatever seems most obvious when first faced with the issue. But without some element of discovery, of freshness, of insight into yourself and your ideas, the subject may get old quickly—for you and for any potential readers. There are analysis moves in this chapter, lots of reflection and introspection, as well as recommendations to do things that may seem to have nothing to do Discover    169 with writing. For most of us, discovering requires not just the right prompt or activity, but the right frame of mind. We need to be ready to recognize and pounce on discoveries when they arise. Discovering Moves Prepare...


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