"Writers keep surprising themselves. . .often they don't know what they're saying until they see it on the page."
--Thomas Williams

When you sit down to write,. . .Does your mind turn blank?
Are you sure you have nothing to say?

If so, you're not alone!  Everyone experiences this at some time or other, but some people have strategies or techniques to get started.  When planning to write something, try some of the following suggestions.


1. Who is your reader? 2. What is your purpose? 3. Who are you, the writer?  (What image or persona do you  want to project?)


1. How can you achieve your purpose? 2. Can you make a plan?


1. Brainstorm
    Keep writing
    Don't censor or evaluate
    Keep returning to the problem

2. Talk to your readers
    What questions would they ask?
    What different kinds of readers might you have?

3. Ask yourself questions

    A.  Journalistic questions

    Who? Where? (So What?) What? Why? When? How?

B.  Classical topics (patterns of argument)

        How does the dictionary define ____________________?
        What do I mean by __________________?
        What group of things does _______________ belong to?
        How is __________________ different from other things in this group?
        What parts can _______________ be divided into?
        Does _____________ mean something new that it didn't years ago?  If so, what?
        What other words mean approximately the same as _________________?
        What are some concrete examples of ________________?
        When is the meaning of _______________ misunderstood?

        What is _________________ similar to?  In what ways?
        What is _________________ different from?  In what ways?
        _______________ is superior (inferior) to what?  In what ways?
        _______________ is most unlike (like) what?  In what ways?

    What causes __________________?
    What are the effects of ________________?
       What is the purpose of ________________?
        Why does _________________ happen?
        What is the consequence of _______________?
        What comes before (after) __________________?

        What have I heard people say about ________________?
        What are some facts or statistics about ___________?
        Can I quote any proverbs, poems, or sayings about ______________?
        Are there any laws about ______________?

        Is ______________ possible or impossible?
        What qualities, conditions, or circumstances make
        _____________ possible or impossible?
        When did _______________ happen previously?
        Who can do _________________?
        If _______________ starts, what makes it end?
        What would it take for _______________ to happen now?
        What would prevent ______________ from happening?

C. Tagnemics

    Contrastive features
        How is ______________ different from things similar to it?
How has ______________ been different for me?

        How much can _____________ change and still be itself?
        How is ______________ changing?
        How much does _______________ change from day to day?
        What are the different varieties of ______________?

        Where and when does _______________ take place?
        What is the larger thing of which _______________ is a part?
        What is the function of ______________ in this larger thing?

D. Cubing (considering a subject from six points of view)

    1. Describe it (colors, shapes, sizes, etc.)
    2. Compare it (What is it similar to?  Different from?)
    3. Associate it (What does it make you think of?)
    4. Analyze it (Tell how it's made.)
    5. Apply it (What can you do with it? How can it be used?)
    6. Argue for or against it

E. Make an analogy

Choose an activity from column A to explain by describing it in terms of an activity from column B (or vice-versa).

           A                                                                                                         B

           playing cards                                                                                    writing essays
           changing a tire                                                                                   growing up
           selling                                                                                               growing old
           walking                                                                                             rising in the world
           sailing                                                                                               studying
           skiing                                                                                                meditating
           plowing                                                                                             swindling
           lauching rockets                                                                                 teaching
           running for office                                                                                earning
           hunting                                                                                               failing
           brushing teeth                                                                                    making peace


Allow some time for your outline or notes or draft to rest before returning to write. This technique gives your mind time to consciously or subconsciously rethink the topic.

Washburn University Writing Center (Adapted from Linda Flower's Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing, Gregory and Elizabeth Cowan's Writing, and Gordon Rohman and Albert Wiecke's Prewriting by the Purdue University Writing Lab and updated/revised by Washburn Univ. Writing Center.)