I love to write but on some days the words flow more easily than on others.
So many students resist writing and it’s often because they can’t get started. With them, and with myself, I try several approaches:
1. Brainstorming ideas and simply jotting them down as they emerge can help by getting those ideas out without worrying about the shape they’ll take. I tell my students that Step One is to locate your thoughts and Step Two is to worry about how artfully you express those thoughts. Keep those steps separate!
It’s quite surprising how many kids do a good job of organizing and expressing their thoughts coherently, once they’ve identified what those thoughts are.
2. The opposite strategy may also work: begin with a blank outline. I sketch the bare bones of a five-paragraph essay outline…
II. First Point
III. Second Point
IV. Third Point
…and from here encourage the student to fill in as much as he can, in whatever order it occurs to him. Again, so much of what intimidates kids (and all of us?) about writing is this feeling that what they write needs to come out perfectly right away. They don’t realize that writing is a tool for thinking and that it can start out sloppy and incomplete and disorganized and imperfect.
3. I’ve had a few kids who need me to write the first three or four words of the first sentence of their essay, and it’s as if that little start uncorks all the rest of their thoughts and they flow.
4. I love this trick from my writer friend, Jane: Pretend you are explaining your subject to one person, and write down what you “say.” Edit it later.
5. I recently discovered this last trick as I was preparing a presentation I’m giving tomorrow: Use your computer’s PowerPoint program. It has all kinds of outlining suggestions and templates. Brainstorm or write your outline or rough draft on PowerPoint, then copy it onto a Word document and finish up.