Tips for getting started with reflective writing

Reflective writing sounds like it should be easy, right? For some people, it’s not difficult. Some people are naturally reflective. For others, it’s not a natural tendency and writing reflectively can be quite challenging.

Here are some tips based on my own experience with reflective writing.

Find a hook

  • What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think about the topic?
  • What’s the first thing you thought of when you read the reflection prompt or thought about the topic?
  • What piqued your interest in this week’s learning resources?
  • Have you considered presenting an alternative viewpoint? One that disagrees with the material presented in that week?
  • Can you be deliberately provocative?
  • Have you considered presenting a viewpoint that *you* disagree with? You could present and then systematically argue against an alternative perspective.
  • Look further afield – consider how the topic applies in other contexts.

Start with your opinion

  • Everyone’s got an opinion! Even when you think you don’t have one, if you unpack your thoughts you’ll find that you lean in a particular direction, even if it’s only a slight leaning. ;-) If you feel ambivalent about the topic, make an effort to read a little wider and spend time really thinking about the topic so that you can formulate an opinion.
  • What you think matters! Start out by writing your opinion on the topic. Then brainstorm the reasons you hold that opinion. Then branch out and look for supporting resources that you could reference or link to.
  • Not sure what you think about the topic? Write down everything that comes into your head. As you write, you’re likely to figure out what your perspective is.
  • Can’t decided whether you agree or disagree with a prompt statement? That’s fine! Tell us why.

Free write

Forget spelling. Forget grammar. Forget structure. Just write. Get everything on the screen, however it comes out.

Lots of people start with a brain dump. List any initial ideas, anecdotes, examples or questions that come to mind about the topic.

Once you’ve got something to work with, sift back through your writing and start refining. Strategies for doing this:

  • Do some research. Try to find answers to questions you have or examples that support or contradict your ideas. Plug some gaps if you don’t feel like you know enough to make your case.
  • Break up the thoughts and ideas you’ve got down on the page. Take each idea and make it the start of a new paragraph, even if you only have one sentence related to that idea.
  • Make a list of all the key points you’ve made. Play with the order of the points.
  • Flesh out each of your ideas. Add sentences. Find more examples if you need them.

General writing tips

  • Write paragraph by paragraph. Focus on making each paragraph tight and think carefully about the order of your paragraphs.
  • Write a topic sentence for each paragraph that clearly states what the paragraph will be about.
  • Cover one main idea in each paragraph – never more! You might provide supporting ideas, but you should keep each paragraph focused.

Practise

The best way to develop your reflective writing skills is to practise.

Write every day.

Does that thought fill you with horror? If it does, then you probably should be doing it!

I’m the kind of blogger who perpetually has about 5072 posts in draft. I write and write and write, and edit and edit and edit, and most of the time, I don’t ever hit publish. Sometimes it’s because I can’t get the argument right. Sometimes it’s a bit too contentious or a bit too hot a topic to post about at the time. Sometimes I just need to write it out and publishing it is just not necessary – I can achieve catharsis just through the writing. So I’ve got thousands upon thousands of words written that will never see the light of day. It might sound like a waste, but I actually find this process of writing things out, of drafting and redrafting, useful for processing my thoughts and improving my writing. The more you write, the easier it becomes. Try it!

And it’s not just about the writing. You should also practise being opinionated. I like to joke that I’m loud and obnoxious and have an opinion on everything. I say it in jest, but it’s pretty much true. I wasn’t always loud, though – or more to the point, I wasn’t always good at communicating my opinions. The more I blog, speak, write, teach and facilitate, the better I get at communicating my thoughts and opinions.

Feel like you’re unqualified to give an opinion? I’ll let you in on a little secret… I feel the same. Fear you’ll get found out as a fraud who has no idea what they’re talking about? Yup, me too. There’s a name for this. It’s called impostor syndrome, and we all suffer from it, from time to time.

Worried you’ll write something and then change your mind? You guessed it – me too! I’ve got opinion pieces floating around out there that I really wish I never wrote, but I’ve learned how to manage that – by owning them and writing about how my thinking has shifted.

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