Have you ever experienced something similar to the following?

One of your most important clients has asked you to write a proposal that could potentially lead to a breakthrough in your business; unfortunately, he has only given you one day in which to prepare it. You quickly pull together the information you need, sit down at the computer, and begin to write.

As the hours tick by, your head begins to throb, your stomach contorts into a mass of iron, and rivulets of sweat stream down your back. Your brain feels like you are wandering through a thick fog, struggling to see the path in front of you. A voice in your head begins to whisper that the proposal is dead in the water, but you are determined to complete the assignment, so you remain glued to your computer. You begin agonizing over every word until the few ideas flowing through your brain finally peter out and disappear altogether. In the end, you feel like you have stumbled into a sulfurous, murky swamp!

What is wrong with this picture? How did you get into such a predicament? What could you have done differently that would have led to more positive results?

Work with your mind, not against it

In The Mind Map Book," Tony Buzan writes:

Each bit of information entering your brain, every sensation, memory or thought (incorporating every word, number, code, food, fragrance, line, colour, image, beat, note and texture) can be represented as a central sphere from which radiate tens, hundreds, thousands, millions of hooks. Each hook represents an association, and each association has its own infinite array of links and connections. The number of associations you have already used may be thought of as your memory, your database, your library.

If this is true, then you embarked on your project working against your brain, instead of with it! If you had allowed your brain to function optimally, you would have given it the chance to make associations before you started writing.

Pre-writing techniques generate a happier scenario

Let's suppose that you have learned your lesson and decide to work with your brain instead of against it on your next project. What will you do differently? How will your experience change?

As soon as you receive the proposal, you sit down at your desk with a piece of paper and a pen and begin reflecting. You allow the creative, daydreaming part of your brain to make associations and quickly generate ideas, without judging or criticizing them. As the ideas come, you jot them down on paper. Once you have plenty of material to work with, you begin analyzing it using the logical part of your brain.

You play with your ideas and move them around until they flow well and take on a logical order that clearly tells your story. You're amazed at how easy it is to see which of your ideas are the most important, which provide support, and which are weak and irrelevant. You even discover new connections, and the solution to an old problem suddenly becomes so obvious that you wonder why you hadn't thought of it before!

In just a few moments, the framework of your argument has become clear; you know where you want to start, you know your most important points, and you know your conclusion. Once you begin typing on the computer, you are amazed at how easy it is to weave your ideas together. In fact, your paper almost writes itself! Almost magical, isn't? Much better than getting bogged down in a sulfurous swamp!

So what are these prewriting techniques?

Writers use many different techniques to prime the pump and get ideas flowing. To be successful, however, you must approach them lightly, as though you were playing a game. Try and turn off the stern voice in your head that judges and criticizes you while staying open to the experience.


This technique asks you to mentally choose a topic and then allow your brain to quickly associate ideas with it. As the ideas begin to come, jot them down in the form of a list. Do this exercise as quickly as you can, without stopping to analyze the quality of your ideas.


In freewriting, you choose a topic and a certain length of time (perhaps 5 minutes). Then you begin to write whatever you hear without stopping. If your mind goes blank, just write something like I can't think of anything and keep on writing. (If you don't stop writing, ideas will soon begin to flow again.) Don't worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure--or anything else. Just allow thoughts to flow through your head and write down what you hear.

Listening to Classical Music

Many writers have found that ideas naturally bubble to the surface when they simply listen to classical music for a predetermined length of time (perhaps 15 to 20 minutes) while focusing on a topic with pen in hand. As words, phrases or symbols come up, simply jot them down and continue listening. Slow (largos and adagios) pieces by Baroque composers such as Bach or by Classical composers such as Mozart have proved to be especially effective for this technique.

Clustering & Mind Mapping

This is my favorite technique for creating associations because it combines the visual aspects of our brains with the verbal. Mind maps can range from simple black and white circles connected to each other by straight lines to complex diagrams in multiple colors and varying line thicknesses. They may include words alone, or they may incorporate an array of symbols and pictures.

You can use mind maps to quickly generate ideas or to visually plan and synthesize an entire book, course, or project. To get started, write a word or phrase in the middle of a page and draw a circle around it. As your mind starts to make associations, write the word next to the first word, draw a circle around it, and then draw a straight line between the two to connect them. As more ideas come to you, continue drawing lines and circles to show their relationship to each other. (For more information about mind maps, check out the wonderful books by Tony Buzan.)

As you can see, when we have a basic knowledge of how our brain works, we can tap into its amazing power and creativity to quickly and easily accomplish our goals!

Author's Bio: 

Clarice Dankers, M.A., is a professional writer, editor and writing coach who helps spiritually-oriented individuals, independent professionals and small business owners express their knowledge, wisdom and expertise in writing. (She can write it for you, edit what you have written, or coach you through the entire process.) Formats include articles, press releases, website copy, nonfiction books, ebooks and more. Clarice is particularly passionate about helping her clients experience the power of writing to foster learning, creativity and healing.