Create a Patchwork Quilt With Words

Saving bits and scraps of writing can lead to great stories

Martha Manning, Ph.D.
4 min readMay 21, 2022


Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

The “usual method”

We often “linear” pieces— with beginnings, middles, ends. We know what we’re writing about. We know what kind of piece it’s going to be- memoir, kneeslapping humor, historical fiction.

We plant our butts in our chairs and dedicate our directed energies to creating interesting and readable prose around those parameters. Then we choose the “keepers” and give the ” “extraneous,” the boot. This method saves us from rambling on, from veering away from the topic we’ve chosen.

The “patchwork method”

The patchwork approach is a way of backing into a story, even though you don’t have a clue what it’s about. It’s more likely the result of the feeling of the moments, than a commitment to a title or an outline.

It all started for me with the onset of depression that spanned a year. I haven’t heard of a person yet who exclaims “”Great ! I’m depressed, This will made a great book.” In fact the very nature of depression is the loss of the gifts of language.

The “moments”

Depression is the experience of fragmentation, of not being able to put two sentencess together. There are times when there is a burst, an illumination, even a pretty good boring sentence.

Each comes to you unplanned and uninvited. It hangs out briefly, until it fizzles out like a firework. When it’s gone it’s gone.

Most of my writing before this time, was clinical or empirical. and I was even having trouble with that. As isolated I was, sometimes a paragraph would flash, and I felt a push — similar to the kicks from my baby to be. But I had nothing to do. If I couldn’t find more, what good was it?

Finding a new way

I usually lug around a big bag with receipts, bank statements, bills, and one crappy pencil and little assignment book. The next time I felt a kick, I scribbled it down.

I made no judgement to feelings for its future. Nothing belonged. Everything belonged. Each night I rifled through the bag. There were quotes, cartoons, and my…



Martha Manning, Ph.D.

Dr. Martha Manning is a writer and clinical psychologist, author of Undercurrents and Chasing Grace. Depression sufferer. Mother. Growing older under protest.