Write Ugly! Brainstorming exercises to let your inner-writer emerge

American poet William Stafford once said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” Stafford isn’t poking fun at amateur writers or encouraging bad writing. What he means is that sometimes writers have the disease of “perfection-itis.” This ailment often begins with feelings of self-doubt, followed by pangs of harsh self-judgments, ending with a paralysis of the brain that is referred to as writer’s block. Stafford is suggesting writers must lower their standards and stop judging themselves so harshly in order to get that initial draft out. Even Shakespeare didn’t get Romeo and Juliet perfect the first time.

 Write nonsense. Write drivel. Write anything, as long as you get words on paper. Don’t know where or how to begin? Try Freewriting to get your brain in gear. The trick to Freewriting is to NOT think too much – just write. If you are in front of the computer screen, turn off the monitor. If you are using a pen and paper, don’t raise your pen off the paper – keep it moving. If you don’t know what to write – write “I don’t know what to write,” and keep writing whatever comes to mind. If you have a topic idea but nothing else, write down that idea and see where it takes you.

 Another writing exercise that will get your mental wheels rolling is Idea Mapping. Also known as “Spidergram,” the idea is to create a visual roadmap of your topic or idea by linking logical connections or legs off the body of the main topic, or spider. Write your idea in the center of the paper and circle it. Begin drawing lines or legs out from the circle with ideas that are connected to your main idea. Use different colors for your legs for more visual definition. As ideas and connections are made, keep those connected to their parent branch. Keep going until you have exhausted the possibilities and the spider is complete. It might be lopsided, but who cares? It’s your spider and you can make it how you want.

 One last exercise that will unleash your idea machine (and my personal favorite) is Clustering. Clustering is similar to Freewriting and Idea Mapping, only you jot down a word or short phrase and don’t worry too much about connections. Avoid writing in sentences. In the center of your paper, jot down your idea for a paper topic, for instance, “Texting.” So, what about “texting”? Start jotting down words on the paper that come to mind: driving; accidents; make illegal?; can’t police. See where we’re going? Don’t censor yourself or mark anything out. Let your mind roll.

 If you’re not used to using brainstorming exercises, it may feel stupid at first, but once you learn to stop the judgmental self-censor, these techniques are a great way to generate ideas and structure your paper. So try it. Write ugly.

Elizabeth Mack


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