On Writing

Anatomy of an Article, Part 2

Click back over to Part 1 of the Anatomy of an Article to refresh your memory. It’s all about note-taking and mind-mapping. In brief, I wanted to write something about my visit to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, the place where Crazy Horse was killed in 1877. On to Part 2:

I decided to write a flash non-fiction piece about this place. If you’re not familiar with flash non-fiction, read this blog post or this book. My challenge was to choose one key idea or image around which to build the piece. Initially, I thought it would be the black butterfly, but as I scrawled notes I realized the one thing that stood out most for me was seeing the Milky Way. Once I had the key element, I began to write.

I wish I could say the article flowed easily but the reality is I’ve never been able to write anything – book or article – unless I had the first paragraph firmly anchored in my mind. Once paragraph #1 was written, I knew where I was going. It took an entire page of handwritten notes – all of which circled the topic – before I latched onto the Idea.

Here’s the train of thought that pulled everything together:  The brightest part of the Milky Way is in the constellation Sagittarius. Sagittarius is the Archer, and is commonly pictured as a centaur drawing a bow. My ah-ha moment came when I realized I could connect the Archer above (Sagittarius) with the Archer below (Crazy Horse). Once that connection was made, I could write the piece.

This is how the opening paragraph turned out:

The last time I saw the Milky Way throwing garlands across the night sky was on a moonless night in western Nebraska. Bands of darkness ran river-like through the streaming starlight, the interstellar dust playing hide-n-seek with the stars beyond. The brightest area seen from my Earth-bound perch was in the direction of Sagittarius, the Great Archer, who moved relentlessly across the southern sky.


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