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Writing Rundown: Word Cloud Brainstorming for A Clockwork Orange

Last week in my Literature Spotlight, I explored the connections between humanity, free will and morality in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. For this week's Writing Rundown, I thought I'd share with you my brainstorming process.

As I mentioned in this blog post, there are many different ways to brainstorm for a project. For this one, I chose to use a Word Cloud. I chose the Word Cloud because it's a much more flexible and organic method than going straight for an outline, and I was anticipating this particular topic being tricky to organize. All of the ideas bouncing around in my head were interconnected, and I felt a Word Cloud would help me sort them out and figure out the best way to structure my essay.

In the center of the page, I began with the phrase “Loss of Free Will.” I knew that was the central key to my current thought process – that the loss of free will was what actually affected the main character's humanity, far more than any other event in the book.

From there, I began to work outward with a second set of large ideas. My second ring contained four phrases: “Title: Clockwork Orange,” “Loss of Humanity,” “Link between humanity, free will, and morality,” and “Becomes tool of the state.” I knew these were all things I wanted to touch on in my essay, but couldn't quite figure out yet how to distribute them. All four of these phrases were connected to the main point in the center.

Next came the outlying phrases, where I began looking for supporting evidence for my various big thoughts and jotting down anything that seemed important. Spiraling outward from those four big ideas were a sequence of phrases indicating both concepts I wanted to explore and specific quotations I knew I wanted to use, along with their page numbers for easy reference later. Each of these spirals connected back to its main idea, but for the most part there wasn't any cross-connection between them at this stage. I went back through and began adding extra connections between some of the ideas to show which things belonged in the same train of thought, and which things shared a causal relationship that I wanted to make sure I touched on. I was beginning to see my paragraphs forming.

But something wasn't quite right.

I inspected my word cloud further. The title connected to the loss of humanity, which connected to the link between the three ideas. I found I had a little triangle surrounding the idea of that link between humanity, morality, and free will. Even though that phrase was not the original center of my cloud, it had emerged as the glue that held all these thoughts together. If I removed that piece, large parts of the rest of my cloud wouldn't connect up anymore. That told me that the concept of that link was actually my thesis, more than simply the loss of free will. That phrase became the new center of my cloud, and I re-adjusted my visual conception of the rest of the cloud to surround that point.

I then added in some dividing lines to visually separate the cloud into the points that would become each of my three paragraphs. One involved the title and its connection to the idea of a loss of humanity, a second dealt with Alex becoming a tool of the state after the loss of his free will, and the third involved a discussion of the final chapter and the commentary on morality presented within it.

I now had a pretty clear idea of how to structure my essay. I translated this cloud into a more traditional five-paragraph outline and wrote from there. Of course, all pre-writing should stay flexible throughout the writing process. As I went into my drafting phase, I found myself organizing and re-organizing multiple times, and I referenced my word cloud several times to keep myself on track as the shifts happened. Word Clouds are really handy for topics that are intricately interconnected, or that you think might run the risk of getting tangled up in themselves as you write. I don't always use one, but this essay really needed it.
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