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Seven Kinds of Pre-Writing to Get Through Writer’s Block

Updated on April 28, 2013
Writing! | Source

I’ve often argued that you can’t get writer’s block. Writing can be a job, and you can’t get “blocked” from doing a job. Have you ever heard of someone being unable to ring up at a cash register? Or not being able to stock shelves? Okay, writing is a bit higher level thinking, but it’s still possible to do it and earn money at it, so obviously there is a way to do it, no matter what.

However, while you can’t get writer’s block, you can get stuck, unable to get an idea out. In those cases, pre-writing is the way to go. There are seven options to use and work through. You may find that one works most of the time…but maybe another one helps in that one case when you’re still stumped. They aren’t magic, but they are a way to help organize your thoughts and break out onto the written (or virtual) page.

Peter Elbow - the "father" of freewriting - talking about writing


Freewriting is one of my favorites. In freewriting, you basically think of your topic, write it down, and just start writing. You want to write for at least ten or fifteen minutes without stopping. If you run out of things to say, it’s perfectly acceptable to just start writing “I don’t want to do this, this is horrible, blah blah blah” because, eventually, something will come to you again. I promise. The best part about this is that you do not worry about editing – no grammar, spelling, punctuation. Nothing but the thoughts you have.

Now, if you really want to do this the right way, after you go ahead and write for ten to fifteen minutes, you want to go back through what you’ve written and circle all the important parts. What’s good, what’s interesting, what’s important? Go ahead and take those things, and then freewrite on them. It isn’t a quick process, that’s for sure, but in the end, you’ll have a strong start for anything you want to write.


With listing, you do exactly that. Make lists. Think of your topic and then write down lists of things connected to it. When you find something in that list that has other things related to it, start a new list. I highly suggest doing this in Word because then you can move the lists around, add to them, etc., without having to deal with a piece of paper. If you’re using paper, then you might need to have a few pieces handy so you can avoid running out of room for all the ideas you’re bound to generate.

Example of brainstorming using the topic of recycling
Example of brainstorming using the topic of recycling | Source


Brainstorming is great if you have a topic or an idea but you don’t know what to do next. It’s kind of a mix of listing and freewriting. You still come up with lists, but they are less organized. Instead of keeping them nice and neat, toss them down as quickly as you can come up with them. You can use fragments, phrases, or incomplete sentences – it doesn’t matter what you write down as long as you can keep going. That’s one of the most important parts of pre-writing – keep writing!

Example of informal outlining using the topic of recycling
Example of informal outlining using the topic of recycling | Source

Informal Outlining

A lot of people don’t like to do outlines. Outlines are what you learned about in elementary school: write an outline, write a rough draft, write a paper. Lots of work, and the outlines were always so forced. (Personally, I’d write my outlines after I wrote my papers – it was easier to make sure they matched.) But informal outlines are different. With an informal outline, you don’t need to worry about making full sentences, using Roman numerals, and all those fancy things. Just some words and phrases do fine. This is the best technique to use if you have the ideas in your head already and just want to go ahead and get them down on paper. It is just a way to organize things, but without imposing a fake structure on the organization. You can use your own organization and what seems logical to you.

Example of bubbling using the topic of recycling
Example of bubbling using the topic of recycling | Source


In bubbling, you start with a circle with a word or phrase in it. (The word or phrase should be your topic or related to it.) Then you start drawing circles that radiate out from it. Each should be connected to the original thought in some way, and you attach them with lines. You can take it further – and you should – by then looking at those connected words and thoughts and do the same thing to them. By the end, it should look almost like a mapping of DNA. It’s a great method of you’re a visual learner or you like designs. Personally, I’m horrible at drawing, and all that bubbling reminds me of is that I can’t draw a circle, but I can use PowerPoint (as you can see in the image), so that’s an option for those who are computer literate.

Example of clustering using the topic of recycling
Example of clustering using the topic of recycling | Source


Clustering is like bubbling, but instead you just write things near the original. You don’t actually use bubbles like you would in bubbling. It’s another mix, like putting together listing and bubbling. It works much the same way as bubbling, but it’s just different enough that you might find it helpful if bubbling isn’t quite right for you, and listing just doesn’t have the luster you want.

Books on the Writing Process

Fast Draft

Fast draft is what some people might refer to as a first draft. In fast draft, you get those ideas down, and you get them down in a hurry. It’s not like freewriting because you stay on topic. It only works when you have knowledge or ideas, and you can put them together. It’s a very, very rough draft – don’t expect to be able to consider this a finished product. But this is one of the best ways to write if you’re stuck when trying to write fiction. Just write the short story – write it fast and furious and don’t stop writing it! You’ll need to go back and make it better, but it lets you get through the dreaded first draft and get to the best words in the word – “The End.”

What kind of pre-writing do you like to use?

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