5 Prewriting Strategies That Will End Your ‘Blank Page Blues’
If your job requires significant daily writing, there are times when you need a mental jump start to keep your work fresh. Everything from simple emails and memos on one end, to creating web pages and writing your company’s daily blog on the other, can be subject to the dreaded writer’s block.
A helpful way to encourage the flow of fresh ideas is to use a process called prewriting. It’s a trick professional writers have been using since … well, maybe since the caveman days. There are many prewriting strategies people use, but thanks to the University Of Kansas Writing Center, we’ll look at five of the most popular that are sure to help you on those days your brain is fried:
You can use brainst0rming alone or with your team. When your team brainstorms, one member of the group invariably breaks through writer’s block soon after you begin. This prewriting strategy generates a ton of information in a very short time because you write down every idea without judging whether or not it is good or bad. Everything is fair game.
To begin, take your general topic and then jot down all the possible terms relating to the topic you can. (Not to change the subject, but how did people brainstorm before those little yellow sticky notes were invented?)
As you go, you will build an association of terms piggy-backing on previous terms you have listed. Do not worry about editing or grouping the terms in the beginning because the point is to list as many things as you can. When you hit a lull, start grouping the terms in arrangements that make sense to you. Next, give each group a label that becomes a potential topic later (complete with talking points) and write a sentence describing it. That becomes your topic sentence.
2. Clustering, or mind-mapping
Clustering is another form of brainstorming that allows writers to map the concepts they have in mind to a bigger picture. This prewriting technique involves finding the relationships between the things they put down on a page. In this technique, begin by writing a central subject down in the middle of the page, white board, easel pad, or whatever you’re using to write ideas down, and circle it. Picture your main idea as the trunk of a tree and all your subsequent ideas are like its branches. The ideal is to have several sets of words relating to the core with even more subsets on those. The goal is to see how these other ideas connect to the core topic and to each other.
Clustering is a strong visual way for you and your team to see the correlations between elements of their stream of consciousness. By taking a closer look at this web of concepts, people are better able to find the best solutions for the issue at hand.
Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part of the writing process. Frustrated writers should remove any constraints and restrictionsthey have and try freewriting as a way to begin, according to the Write at Home blog. This activity allows work to be created without thinking about grammar and spelling errors, correctness of language or outside factors. The key is for writers to think as they write, instead of stopping and starting. You may be surprised at what information you find on the page when you’re free to put down everything you have in your head.
Remember back in elementary school when you learned to write an outline for your book reports and research papers, such as they were? It works when you’re an adult and stuck trying to figure out what to write, too! Outlining is a smart way for you to organize your thoughts and how those will flow into future written documents – proposals, presentations, etc. There is not a right or wrong way to make an outline. You can write complete sentences, short phrases or a combination of both.
Looping is a freewriting technique that allows you to increasingly focus your ideas in trying to discover a writing topic. You loop one 5-10 minute freewriting after another, creating a sequence of freewritings, each more specific than the other. The same rules that apply to freewriting apply to looping: write quickly, do not edit, and do not stop.
Freewrite on a topic for 5-10 minutes. Then, read through your work, looking for interesting topics, ideas, phrases, or sentences. Circle those you find interesting. A variation on looping is to have a co-worker circle ideas in your freewriting that interests him or her. Then freewrite again for 5-10 minutes on one of the circled topics. You should end up with a more specific piece about a particular topic.
These are just five of the many prewriting strategies you can use when struggling to write. Remember to keep all ideas you come up with, even if you can’t see yourself writing about the subject. In six months, that idea may spark an “a-ha” moment in your head that leads to your best writing yet.