A proverb says that all beginnings are difficult. Writing is no exception. Starting a new project, a response paper, a short essay, an oral presentation, a teaching observation, a report, or a final paper can be very difficult. You sit there looking at the empty page (or the blank screen) unable to write the long beautiful sentences that you would like to see. At this point you need to brainstorm and remind yourself that learning is creative.

The following gives you some ideas for how to start writing on a project.

  • Read the assignment again and pay special attention to the language used. Be sure you understand what is expected of you. Then put the assignment away.
  • Write in your words what you are supposed to do. Try to formulate as clearly as you can, in your own words, what the professor expects from you.
  • Write down all the words that come to mind about the topic. This doesn’t have to be in the form of sentences but can be words, impressions, fragments and so on. The important thing is to get some words out.
  • As you read over these words, start free-writing on the topic. Free-writing is an exercise that is intended to allow your thoughts and ideas flow freely. The point is not to judge yourself. Don’t second-guess yourself in the writing process. If you can’t think of what to say then say that. This will allow you to get rid of that critic inside your head that keeps telling you that what you are doing probably isn’t right. Just write. Some people find it helpful to set a timer and “just” write for 20 minutes. It might look something like this:
    In this paper I am supposed to write on the 1996 performance of Bethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. How do I do this? I want to point out the way this particular performance seemed to bring out something completely new in the symphony that judging by the critics had never been heard before... I am not sure how I can actually do this – I will need at least 5 different reviews of the event.... I am sure there is something here though. Perhaps I need to go back to the library and check out the New York Times. It seems to me that it was in the tempo the greatest difference could be seen.
  • As you look over your free-writing, you will probably find that there are structural problems and holes that will need to be filled. However, most often you will find that a central idea or thought has emerged.
  • To build on your free-writing, go back to the initial break-down of the assignment that you wrote. See how the ideas you expressed in your free-writing correspond with what you were supposed to do.
  • This exercise can now be used for each section of the paper. This can relate to your outline or, if you have not created one yet, use your free-writing exercise to establish what elements you will need. Using the free-writing above you would need: an introduction, a performance history of the symphony, some material on how the 1996 performance was so radically different, evidence for this, analysis of the criticism, and a conclusion. For each of these sections you can free-write if you feel that the writing is going slowly.

Keep in mind that brainstorming can used productively throughout the writing process if you feel that you are getting stuck on something. Very few writers write a paper from the beginning to the conclusion all at once OR without some kind of plan that will help them get started.

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