How do you feel whenever you see a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen? More often than not, you might feel terrified at the thought of needing to fill up all that space in response to a writing assignment. You may panic because you feel like you do not have anything to say, or you do not know exactly how to say what is on your mind.
The situation above may be familiar to you. As we begin this lesson, you might have some apprehensions about writing: You think that it is a hard task that only a few can excel at. This is because as readers, we only see the finished product—we do not often see the writer’s efforts at writing and rewriting just to convey the intended message.
This lesson aims to show you that writing, contrary to what you might think, is a skill that can be learned—and improved—when you know how it works and you find out what works for you. You will be introduced to some techniques to help make writing more manageable and effective. One such technique is planning your writing through pre-writing strategies.
The first stage of the writing process is pre-writing, which pertains to different techniques that help you discover ideas before writing the first draft of a paper. During pre-writing, you use a variety of strategies to find out things that interest you about a topic or the new ways of thinking about it. It also helps you identify what else you need to know about a topic. These are valuable and time-saving because determining a focus early in the writing process will help you effectively plan and execute your research and writing.
In the pre-writing stage, it is important to refrain from critiquing your ideas while they have not yet been fully formed. You should approach it with a relaxed and open state of mind. The pre-writing stage allows you to communicate with yourself so you can discover what you want to communicate to your readers
No idea how to start finding your writing topic? Writers use a variety of ways to find their writing topic—brainstorming, clustering or mapping, and freewriting. Go ahead and experiment with them, and pick the one that suits you best. Just keep in mind that your writing topic should be:
- one that interests you, so that you can be passionate, personal, and comfortable when writing about it; and
- one that you know so well that you can be credible and convincing to your audience with your message.
Brainstorming is one of the better and more popular methods of discovering your writing topic. All you need to do is begin at the top of a sheet of paper and list down everything that comes into your mind as fast as you can for a certain amount of time (say, five minutes, for example). The aim of a brainstorming exercise is not to produce a logical flow of ideas but to provide yourself with as many choices for your topic as possible. You can be free, whimsical, and personal with the list as you please.
Read on below for a sample brainstorming list for a formal theme with a free choice of topic:
- Southeast Asia
- Superheroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk
- Eating halo-halo on an April morning
- White beaches in Boracay
- Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus
- The Parable of the Prodigal Son
- Buying my first ever cell phone
- Fear of cockroaches
- Hatred of Science and Math
- Jose Rizal dying at Luneta Park
- Basketball is better than volleyball
- K to 12 education in Philippine high schools
- Defense of The Ancients II (DOTA II)
- Life in outer space
- Grandparents who live in Ilocos Norte
After listing down all your ideas, browse through them and pick the one that best appeals to you, or the one that you know best. You will be surprised at how broad your selection of topics can be, about how much you actually already knew. You can also try to connect your ideas, and see what meaning you can create. These connections between ideas can also be writing topics in themselves. (For example, “Eating halo-halo on an April morning” and “White beaches in Boracay” talk about summer in the Philippines, which can be your chosen writing topic.)
2. Clustering or Mapping
Clustering or mapping is another technique that you can use to find your writing topic. Start by writing a word or phrase at the center of the page and encircle it; this becomes your main topic. Then, think of other words and phrases related to that main topic, write them down, encircle them, and draw lines connecting them to the main topic. These become your subtopics. From there, you can branch-off the subtopics with other supporting ideas, or you can think of new subtopics related again to the main topic. Just make sure that each word or phrase you write down is connected to the word or phrase that suggested it.
When you are done drawing your cluster, browse through all the ideas and pick one that you would like to talk about. If you want to expand on your chosen idea, you can also use the words and phrases you wrote around it. The beauty of this pre-writing method is that it teaches you how to dissect an idea, or how to develop it further. Study the sample cluster below, and use it as a model for your own cluster.
Notice how brainstorming and clustering, or mapping, use lists, words, and phrases.
The next method, called freewriting, uses the force of narration to draw a stream of connected ideas out of the writer’s mind. Freewriting is writing down your thoughts nonstop, in the exact order, language, and form in that you think them.
The good thing about this pre-writing method is that it maintains some coherence between a writer’s thoughts. Furthermore, the key to using this method successfully is speed; you write as quickly as you can to create constant momentum for your thoughts to keep on flowing. Writing fast can also get you writing down thoughts you did not see coming. The rules of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and style do not matter here; run with your words to catch that subject you have always itched to talk about. You will be amazed at how much distance your writing mind will cover with this exercise.
To get a better grip of freewriting, read on the sample composition below. Notice how the writer abandons proper writing form and style to quickly get as many ideas across as possible.
I’ve been to Trinoma Mall in North Avenue Quezon City yes it was constructed by the Ayalas just like the Glorietta and Greenbelt malls in Makati I like Trinoma better than SM North EDSA because it’s nearer to my home in Mindanao Avenue plus it’s connected to the MRT so yeah it makes commuting much easier I also like Trinoma’s design better it’s more modern upscale and luxurious than SM North EDSA which is actually more targeted at the masses the lower social classes and Trinoma has the places that like such as Zara Taco Bell Gift Factory and Timezone these are not found in SM North EDSA which is such a pity also did I mention that Trinoma’s cinemas are tons better than SM’s cinemas the movie seats are comfier the comfort rooms are cleaner and the service staff are much friendlier okay admit the tickets are a bit pricier but 1 don’t mind paying a bit more for a mall that cares for its customers better ah there’s also the parking in SM North EDSA I am never able to find any parking space for some weird reason but in Trinoma I’m always assured a parking space for my Honda Jazz
Now that you have learned different pre-writing strategies, you may want to use a writing journal to record your ideas. A good way to sustain writing practice is the habit of journal writing. The Merriam-Webster defines a journal as “a book in which you write down your personal experiences and thoughts.”A lot of writers keep journals for indefinite periods of time because they always find something interesting in their lives to talk about.
The only things you will ever need for journal writing are: your favorite pen; a nice, clean notebook; and the drive to keep on writing. The drive to write is the most important, because a journal is no good to a person who does not write at all.To start the habit, you will need to schedule journal writing during a particular time of the day that you are free. It can be that 15-minute morning wait for the school bus to pick you up, the school lunch hour, or the 20 minutes before your sleeping time. After setting up your schedule, determine how much writing you would like to achieve within that time period. Try stretching your writing goals a bit to challenge yourself, yet keep it realistic at the same time. (For example, if you know your actual limit is three paragraphs a day, then aim to write four paragraphs a day. Do not aspire, though, to write 20 paragraphs a day.)
Finally, work that pen! Sit down and write down any thought that comes to your mind. Do not second-guess your own opinions and do not hold your words back with rules on grammar, punctuation, and style. (That is what the revision process is for, which we will learn later.) Get yourself used to the habit of finding something to talk about, so that it comes naturally to you one day. Surely, you know more about the world around you than you probably give yourself credit for.