Invention:  Looping

Looping is a variation of freewriting.  But while freewriting involves going straight ahead at high speed, looping repeatedly returns to a starting point and begins again. No matter how general or unfocused your starting point, looping enables you to find a center of interest and eventually a "thesis."

The steps are fairly simple:

1.  Write down your area of interest. It may be a person, a place or thing, a trend or activity, a movie or cultural artifact, a broad historical period or a specific political event. Write nonstop for five minutes.


Start with the first thing that comes to mind about your topic.


Write rapidly, without looking back to reread what you've written or to correct anything.


Do not stop writing. If you get stuck, rewrite your last sentence. Keep writing.


Follow diversions and digressions, but keep returning to your topic.


2.  At the end of five minutes, pause and reread what you've produced. Decide what is most important--a single insight, a pattern of ideas, an emerging theme, a visual detail--the single thing about your topic that stands out most. (Peter Elbow, who invented this technique, calls this the "center of gravity.") To complete the first loop, express that "center" in a single sentence. Beginning with this sentence, write nonstop for five more minutes.


3.  Reread this second writing, locate the center, and summarize it in a single sentence again to complete the second loop. Keep looping until one of your center summaries produces a focus or thesis. You may need only two or three loops; you may need more.


(Adapted from The Writing Center at the University of Massachtussetts-Bristol.)

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