On Writing

Anatomy of an Article – Part 1

anatomy of an article

If you think about it, it’s the details that draw us into a story – whether fiction or non-fiction. That’s why I was interested in reading a recent article about the value of  note-taking for travel writers. I’m not a travel writer, per se, but I never travel without a notebook shoved in my hip pocket.

Whenever I visit a place (and for me, that’s typically somewhere in the frontier west) I jot down random observations.  That way, no matter how long it may be before I write about the place, by digging out an old notebook I can get myself back into a specific time and place.

I use little spiral-bound notebooks that easily slide into my pocket.  When I get home, I throw them into a box where I keep all my travel notebooks. Sadly, I’m not organized enough to categorize them by date or place – but so far my so-called system works fine.  anatomy of an article

Yesterday, I got an itch to write a flash non-fiction about Fort Robinson.  Located in western Nebraska, Robinson is the place  Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux warrior, surrendered and was killed. The photo above is of  a replica of the guardhouse the soldiers were trying to force him into when he bolted and was fatally bayoneted in the back.

Got Notes, Now What?

The notes I took date back to 1998, my first trip to Fort Robinson. Just reading them reminded me of  the blazing hot day I sat on the edge of the old parade ground, across from the guardhouse, jotting down whatever came to mind. My first thought was to make a mind-map from my notes, just to see what might happen.

Instead of using my desktop or iPad mind-mapping software, I got out a piece of paper and just started free-associating (see below). Now here’s the amazing part of the story:

As I mind-mapped (clustering is what we used to call it) I started making interesting associations. The two that most struck me were my note about a black butterfly and another about  the flies that bit so hard they drew blood.  I’m not sure how I’m going to use them, but I know they’ll have a part. It was a black day for the Sioux – and the blood drawn by the flies biting the back of my leg was but a drop compared to the wound suffered by the warrior.

anatomy of an article

Another thing – the wind. But I need to think about that one a little more.

Thought you might enjoy seeing my mindmap – and wondering, do you use mind maps too?

Read on to Part 2


  • Alison Cross

    I’ve used mind-mapping to help when studying at University and College, but not for writing. It’s such a good idea that I will try it out when writing about this coming weekend: a Gamers Convention that I’m attending with my son (and dreading, truth be told). I hope to write something funny for my blog about the event and this might just help make the resulting post a bit more compelling 😀

    Ali x

  • Ann Christensen

    I have tried mind mapping, but it seems stilted. It helps to see how yours grows on the page. I’ll try it on my next project to see what comes up.

  • Nancy

    Mine could actually grow bigger, Ann. At this point, though, I’m trying to see what associations really make sense for my article. Thanks for being here and for commenting!

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