How to go from stream of consciousness to organized thought

I am curious whether anyone has a helpful strategy that they wouldn’t mind sharing. I have struggled for a long time trying to get started tackling a rather large backlog of quite long and involved streams of consciousness. My thinking occurs in such a way that I find myself referencing multiple things and multiple connections, rehashing various ideas that are more clearly described elsewhere and also not yet organized. I do all this just to set the stage for the main idea I want to express. And usually in the process there are some surprise noteworthy yet slightly irrelevant insights or phrases.

Trying to wrangle the ideas, I am tempted to try to atomize each idea. I am also tempted to atomize the idea that other ideas were explained in support of. It becomes a mess pretty quickly as some ideas must be referenced in multiple ideas, and the end result of hard work feels almost less helpful than the original stream.

So, I try the other extreme of just encapsulating the entire stream as a single outline. This strategy also is a lot of work and is limited by being in a single note, thus unable to be effectively organized by folders, tags, or links, although the use of headings and blocks can help.

My question is if anyone has a tip or two that might help break the gridlock. It is at the point where I am concerned that if I don’t get a handle on this, some good ideas will be lost forever or I may just continue piling and piling things up until there is both nothing and everything left to do.

Thanks in advance!

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I struggle in the same way with no clear solution to share other than to suggest a focus on the deliverable. At a certain point in your process you will wont to use your thinking for something.

Ask yourself: Why are you doing all this thinking. What is the point? What is the desired end result?

Narrow down exactly what you intend to publish (even if it is for yourself). What will be the most helpful?

Know the format, the audience, the desired length. A who, what, when, where, and why.

Have examples of other pieces, whether from yourself or others.

Use this focus on a deliverable to build clarity. A deliverable doesn’t have to be a polished essay. Maybe you’ll produce a podcast. Maybe this thinking is just fuel for a personal hobby or a future business. If it is for yourself, you may decide the deliverable is a collection of well interlinked, highly specific, or general notes about an area of interest. It might be an outline.

If you worry that your thought process is never finished, so a compete deliverable can’t be achieved than use time as a limiting factor. Plan to spend only so much time before you have to move onto to something else. Knowing that the deliverable is there for you to read as reference, and at some point in the future you may rework it, if time allows.

Also - try changing modes. pretend you are an editor, and it’s your job to make sense of someone else’s brain dumps.


Thanks so much for delivering this thoughtful response. Your points are very clearly expressed and well taken. I really appreciate your insight. Many thanks!

Off to go put my editor hat on. My internal writer really needs to rein it in. Great advice!