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The Bubble Method
by Eva Shaw

The Bubble Method, sometimes called clustering and mind mapping, is a brainstorming technique used by fiction and nonfiction writers. It's a powerful creative tool if you want to discover the unexpected and to clarify thoughts.

The method works whether you're brainstorming for a query letter, interview questions, article topics or to come up with ideas for books that you’re interested in writing about. (For your information: The Bubble Method also works well to develop plots and characterization, if you’re also a fiction writer.) The Bubble Method is a winner if you want to brainstorm titles.

If there's one bit of information I'll keep my fingers crossed that you'll use it's the Bubble Method. People in my traditional and on-line classes and during my writer’s conference workshops gush at length about the concept and yet it's simple.

Here are the directions to Bubble for an article idea. If you're brainstorming for a book, a chapter or other creative endeavor, just substitute the focus:

  1. Get a large piece of newsprint paper and crayons or colored marking pens. You may not use typing/printer paper and writing pens. You need to THINK BIG.
  2. Print the topic of your article in the middle of a piece of paper. Draw a circle around the words. Add ten lines straight out from the circle, or the first Bubble. You have made what looks like a child's drawing of the sun with words in the center.
  3. Without censoring yourself in any way, print ten sub-topics that are somehow related to your main topic. Circle them, too. That's it. Simple and powerful.
  4. Do not stop with seven or nine. You must brainstorm until you have ten or more topics on that paper.
  5. Sit back and look at the fresh ideas the system produced. Read the ideas out loud.
  6. After you've looked over your second Bubbles, select those that seem to be sufficient to support an entire article. (A small, simple topic might not be sufficient to propose for a 2000-word article. It might be better in a 200-word article.) Try to come up with seven to nine. If you cannot comfortably include seven, return to step 1 or consider doing some more research to learn about your proposed topic. Choose your favorite for the next assignment.
  7. Take each of the sub-Bubbles individually and Bubble again. With this "go round" you're actually outlining your article and will come up with seven to ten topics. These are the main points of your article, perhaps they’re the topics of the article’s paragraphs.
  8. You may want to Bubble "down" further and outline sub-sub-Bubbles.
  9. After you've Bubbled and like the focus of the article, put the entire thing away for a day or so, if you can. Try not to consciously think about the Bubbles during this time and I promise your brain will be silently mulling up massive loads of creativity.
  10. After a day or two and without looking at the previous Bubbles, go back and repeat the entire method.
  11. Finally, compare the two. Then put the material in list form. You’ll have a map to take you to the completion of your article.

The system is easy and addictive. I use it often and use it when I write articles, books, create book proposals and help students discover the writing fields in which they want to focus.

© Copyright 1999, Eva Shaw

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