46 5. Prewriting

Ever have writers’ block? Even the greatest writers have been troubled by the inability to come up with a good idea. Sometimes we need a little prodding to help our creativity. Prewriting is that tool. Prewriting simply means jotting down ideas prior to starting the writing process (actually, it could be considered the first step following the choice of topic).

Our minds are filled with ideas. Who hasn’t had at least a million ideas already today (unless you just got up, I guess). But transferring those ideas to paper or computer screen is the difficult part. Using a prewriting concept can help make that transfer much easier. It can get your ideas down without all those other worries of writing (organization, development, sentence skills).

A convenient way to prewrite is the “cluster.” Clustering ideas helps us to create information while organizing it at the same time. Unfortunately, ideas offten come out of our minds jumbled. The cluster helps us to place those ideas into categories so the next step (organizing) is much easier. To begin, start with a central idea (what is the topic of your paper?). Using a word or phrase, place that idea in the center of a sheet of paper. Then, think of supporting ideas for the central idea, sub-topics. Place those ideas in circles around the central idea. Then, think about specific support for each one of those sub-topics. As you move away from your central idea, you are creating more specific information, information you can use as support in your essay. Each one of those sub-topics could be a paragraph, perhaps, with the supporting info used to develop the paragraph.

Here’s a little practice exercise for you. On the center of a sheet of paper, place the word “School.” Now, think of four or five sub-topics to that very broad word (teachers, for instance). Then continue to branch out with specific support for your sub-topics (teachers could lead to “Mrs. Jones,” which could lead to “strict,” “unpopular” and “demanding,” in reference to Mrs. Jones as a teacher. See how many ideas you can come up with in about 10 minutes. It’s overwhelming what we can get out of our minds with a little prodding.

Consider using a pre-writing technique for your essays, particularly if you are having some difficulty with one. It’s kind of like having your mind do the work for you.


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