Getting Started

I have been staring at my computer screen for an hour, but cannot figure out where to begin...help me!

Writing, in general, is hard work, and getting started with an essay can sometimes be very difficult and frustrating. If you can't figure out where to begin, try one or more of the following.

Re-read the Assignment Carefully

Often the assignment write-up from your instructor or textbook gives you several clues about what topics the essay should cover and even how to organize it. Sometimes, your thesis statement will end up being an answer to some question posed in the assignment write-up. If you don't understand the assignment, see your instructor or an English tutor.

Talk about the Assignment with Someone

Explaining the assignment to someone else will help you understand it more fully, and talking about it will help you generate ideas.

Try Brainstorming, List-making, or Freewriting

In five or ten minutes, write down absolutely everything that pops in your head that is even remotely related to your topic. You may want to scatter bubbles of ideas across the page and connect them with arrows for a more visual plan, or you may find that lists and constant writing (freewriting) help the ideas to flow. Whatever method, keep at it, and you will produce some great ideas to start with. Finally, examine your results to see if any of the ideas could be topics for paragraphs.

Break the Task up into Chunks

Sometimes writers get intimidated by the size of the paper they are asked to write. If this happens, break the large job up into smaller tasks. Instead of seeing it as a four-page paper, view it as six well developed paragraphs. Write one paragraph at a time, and put them together at the end.

Know Your First Draft Does Not Have to be Perfect

Even if the perfect words aren't coming to mind, get your ideas down on paper...even if they sound awkward to you. Then, go back and revise the essay later.

Step Away from your Computer

Sometimes you need to get away from the task for a few minutes and come back later with a clear head and a fresh perspective.