Prewriting

Techniques to Get Started

Mining Your Intuition

Intuitive techniques are often choices for writers who tend to discover information through concrete experiences and their own feelings. These techniques—brainstorming and webbing and chaining—appeal to students who don’t always know where to begin and who are comfortable generating their own ideas and approaches. They tend to generate a lot of ideas and enjoy the process of discovery. Some students just work better when they are able to let their imaginations run free and express their idea associations.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming enables a writer to find ideas that may be submerged in the mind, memory, and intuition. It’s a form of free association in writing to stimulate a chain of ideas—a technique that teaches you how to think in writing. You can brainstorm with others or by yourself. Either way, you create a list of ideas and associations to help you think through your topic. In brainstorming:

  • Set a specific time limit. To begin, set aside a specific amount of time, such as 5 or 10 minutes. Suspend your critical mind that edits and censors ideas. Commit yourself to write without criticizing what you write for the entire time you set. Just keep writing until your time is up.

  • Use plenty of blank paper. Use blank sheets of paper or the blank screen on your computer. It’s important to have plenty of space in which to write so you don’t run out of space before you run out of ideas. Using unusual writing implements, such as crayons or colored markers, sometimes opens up your creative thinking and stimulates novel ideas. Some writers tape sheets of paper to a wall; others use a white board. Still others use butcher paper, which comes in large rolls, taped to a wall or a door.

  • Select a word, phrase, or idea. When you are ready to begin, set your time and write down everything that occurs to you for that word, phrase, or idea. Write your key phrase at the top, in the middle, or even at the end of the sheet. Keep writing. Don’t stop; use what you have written for more ideas.

  • Write quickly without stopping. The ideas will come rapidly, and you should write everything down immediately without judging its worth. When you brainstorm in a group, designate a recorder to do the writing to keep up with the rush of ideas. The important thing here is to maintain this flow of ideas without stopping.

When your time is up, take a break from your brainstorming for a few minutes. When you return to your list, circle the ideas or phrases that interest you or that suggest something you might like to pursue. This preliminary list can give you key phrases, words, and ideas for still another brainstorming session. The more you brainstorm, the more material you will generate for your writer's mind. You can brainstorm until you are satisfied that you have the ideas you want to work with.

When your brainstorming session is over, you can then consciously begin analyzing and organizing your ideas. Circle the ideas that might be related and that might interest you. Can you organize these into a topic for your writing assignment? You can even try freewriting to form some good ideas for your assignment.

An added benefit of brainstorming is that you are bringing your own personal perspective, knowledge, memory, and creativity to your writing assignment. When you work from your own viewpoint, you are more likely to generate original material.

Webbing and Chaining

Webbing and chaining are very similar, using the free association of ideas discovered visually. Begin webbing by writing your topic idea in the center of a page and drawing lines that radiate out from it. At the end of each of these lines, or rays, write down all the ideas that occur to you. Brainstorm for a period of time, such as two minutes, and generate several different ideas.

Then choose one or more of these branched ideas and do the same for it, generating more ideas.

Chaining is a bit more structured. Start by placing your idea inside a box, and then draw arrows from that box to another box, in which you write an idea that occurs to you. Each additional box may then logically suggest another idea to you.

Keeping a Journal

Many writers keep a journal in which they brainstorm ideas or even freewrite for future use. In fact, keeping a journal is a very old technique that writers have used to practice thinking in writing and to keep records of what they learn. Journals can be repositories of seeds of ideas for writing assignments in any course and a place to practice thinking in writing. If you struggle to think of ideas in some courses, keep a journal from the beginning of the course. In the back, designate a section for recording your ideas, thoughts, and possible topics for papers.

Many students resist keeping journals because they seem like a lot more work. The rewards are significant, however, when you are stuck for an idea for a paper and succeed at mining your journal for just the right subject.

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