Unblock that Brain!

512px-GLAMcamp_London,_England,_GB,_IMG_4965_editWhat do you do if you’re faced with an essay, project or story to write, and you find that your mind is either a total blank or a jumble of so much information that you simply don’t know where to start?
Well, there are two techniques used by professional writers that could help you beat that brain block and straighten out your muddled thoughts: listing and freewriting.

Listing is a particularly good technique for generating new ideas when you’re faced with having to write a story but haven’t been given a theme, and you are so full of ideas that you don’t know where to start.It works as follows:

  •  Set the alarm on your phone, watch or clock, and without worrying about order or structure, jot down as many ideas as you can without stopping to analyse them.
  • Read through your ideas and pick your favourite.
  • Reset your alarm for another five minutes and this time jot down ideas that come to you generated by thinking about the topic you selected.

You should now have enough information to trigger your imagination into writing a great story.


Freewriting is a great method of getting the creative part of the brain limbered up before attacking any writing task.

  • Set an alarm for five minutes and write – just write. Don’t stop. Just scribble down anything and everything that you know about the subject you are about to tackle, be it a history essay, a geography project, or an English assignment. Don’t worry about your thoughts being disconnected.
  • If you get stuck, just keep writing the same few words over and over again until your brain triggers another idea. Don’t stop writing until the alarm rings.
  • If your first attempt doesn’t work, try again. Tests show that by the second or third try 90% of people using this technique will have a successful set of ideas to work from.

Once you have five minutes worth of ideas before you, you’ll have a mass of information to organise into order. You can then develop more ideas from those you brainstormed during your freewriting session.


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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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