What comes to mind when you think of the word web?
I teach writing students how to brainstorm ideas on paper, using a webbing technique that some call clustering. Many teachers use this. The rules are simple: start with a word, phrase, or concept in the middle of the page, then write down snippets of whatever comes to mind. Not in a list or outline, but spiraling out from the word like fireworks.
Jot any association of word or image. Keep writing and fill the whole page. Take rabbit trails off new words. No censoring! And don’t worry about spelling, grammar, penmanship, time limits, or any of that left-brained stuff. Just let yourself go.
Why do this?
1) It helps get all the words and images that are stuck in your brain out onto the paper. Those words are your raw materials to build with.
2) This free association enables you to come up with connections you might not have thought of before. Including really cool similes and metaphors to use in writing.
In fact, if you have a minute, try clustering right now. Read all the instructions first.
- Start simple. Write the word WEB in the middle of a blank page and circle it. Add 6 lines (like spokes) going out from WEB. Write each of the 6 senses at the end of each spoke and circle those individual words.
Yes, I said 6. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch/feel when you think of WEB? Those are the 5 senses. The 6th sense if not extra-sensory perception. It’s kinesthetic. What do you feel on the inside, under your skin? Not emotions, but the result of emotions: your stomach, muscles, joints, nerves, and so on.
- But don’t stop there. Write whatever comes to mind without worrying which sense it goes with. Go from tangible to intangible. From concrete to abstract. Go beyond the obvious.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes and just start writing everything that comes to mind when you think of the word WEB. Do this without music or distractions. Just focus.
- No censoring! No judging! Nobody’s looking over your shoulder to make you feel foolish. Just write whatever. Keep the pen moving. And don’t watch the clock. Don’t read ahead, either. Feel free to take rabbit trails.
Ready? Start the timer. Five minutes.
What did you come up with for the word WEB? There are no right or wrong answers. (Feel free to share in comments below.)
Here’s what some students thought of, various lines of thought. If certain words seem unrelated to WEB, remember that rabbit trails are encouraged.
- spider, prey, entangle, sticky, sly, coy, deceitful; “‘Will you walk into my parlour,’ said the Spider to the Fly”; “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”; lies, white lies
- Charlotte’s web, shiny, dew, “Some Pig,” true friend to Wilbur, County Fair, can’t judge appearances, can’t judge a book by its cover, beauty is only skin deep (which leads to more rabbit trails) . . .
- beautiful but deadly, temptation, lure, addiction, caught, stuck, slave, can’t get out, no choices, no options . . .
- rules, prison, stuck, freedom, cost of freedom; liberty, flag waving; “red, white, and blue”; Iwo Jima, WW II, soldiers, blood, cost lives, Bill of Rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, of the press, etc. . . .
- cobwebs, winding staircase, attic, dust, cough, sneeze, treasures, boxes, antiques, Grandma, old stuff, brittle papers, diaries, photos, yellowed books, old-fashioned dresses, jewelry, relatives fighting, inheritance . . .
- webbed feet, duck, frog, waddle, hard to walk, swim, duck pond, feed the ducks, The Frog Prince, baseball gloves (with webbing), baseball . . .
- cobwebs, under the porch, lattice fence, gate, yard, garden, weeds, hold you back, choke, kill flowers, stuck, trapped . . .
- webbing, clustering, writing, essays, rough drafts, edit, grades, school, stories, research papers, poetry, similes, metaphors, word pictures, stuck in words, stuck in class, locked doors . . .
- website, World Wide Web, internet, research at your fingertips, knowledge, search engine, Facebook, blog, social media, Facebook, Twitter, etc., no privacy, bullying . . .
What’s the point? The point is that you can make connections, and that you have something worthwhile to say.
It’s a starting point for creativity. I’ve had students finish brainstorming like this and suddenly want to keep writing, whether a poem or an essay. They narrow their focus, decide on their purpose, and get writing.
In class, we might cluster a season, an emotion (fear, anger, sadness), a room in their house, a concept (liberty, wisdom), a provocative quote, or a poignant painting or photograph.
Here’s a student writing sample after clustering WEB. This is “free writing,” a first draft based on one aspect of the cluster. By free writing, I mean it’s the first stream of consciousness out of his pen, without polishing or editing.
~~There are many strings attached to being free. The sticky part of freedom is having to fight or work to get it. Freedom has its own web of problems and consequences. Also, when you’re caught in a web, you wonder, “How do I get out?” But when you’re out, you wonder, “What do I do with my freedom?”
That’s just a start. The main thing it that this writer has seen irony in the “web” of freedom, thus creating a metaphor to build this piece on to develop later. The cluster took him in directions he hadn’t considered before. It’s all part of the PROCESS.
And it all started with one little word: WEB. It’s not what you think . . .
Check out the book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele L. Rico. This was invaluable to me for teaching creative writing, especially for students who doubted their creativity. I followed most of these lessons the first eight weeks of class to get the imaginative juices flowing.
Though not everybody puts stock in the differences between left- and right-brain thinking, that seems an easy way to think about differences in creative methods.
What did you discover for the word “web”?
I’d love to hear from you!