Tag Archives: brainstorming

The Writing Process, the Writing Center, and You

Dear Potential Writing Center Client,

I am writing this letter to you to inform you of the world of possibilities the Writing Center @ MSU can offer you. Through this letter, it is my hope that you open up to the idea that writing is a process and that we are here to assist you with that process, wherever it is you may be.

Strong, thoughtful writing usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you write something the night before it is due, then you are writing what is probably, as Anne Lamott would call it, a “shitty first draft.” And shitty first drafts are great! Sometimes you just need to get it out and after you have your initial ideas out, shitty or not, we (you and a tutor) can begin to engage in the writing process through revision.

I want you to open up to another idea: writing as revision. Writing, as a process, is something that ideally happens over time and is at its strongest when you can draft something and continue to revise it, or re-envisioning it (see what I did there?). If you can give into this idea, then, the writing process is something we can engage in together (at the Writing Center!).

A basic outline for the writing process is as follows: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, revision, revision, revision (do you get the point yet?), revision, editing. I will now go into detail concerning the individual steps.

All of these steps are proposed as a model. You might have a different model or one in a different order. If you are not doing writing in the way I’ve just prescribed, don’t fret! It’s just a model to give you a start.


This is the generative, imaginative, creative, and/or constructive part of the writing process. This is when you can begin bringing ideas together without any fear of linear thinking, making complete sense, or worrying if it will “work.” Brainstorming is a beautiful, magical time where you are free to roam the wilds of your mind and jot down anything that seems relevant. Techniques like making lists, bubble maps, and free-writing are simple tools you can use during this stage to generate ideas.


Outlining can be understood as the step between brainstorming and drafting where you take those many thoughts and start organizing them into a more coherent, but not perfect state. Outlining can consist of formal outlines with roman numerals, lazy outlines of your choosing (my favorite) or just organized lists. Outlining can also be a great time to discover if you need more research or not.


Drafting, for the purpose of this model, is the creation of the first draft (or “shitty first draft”) in an attempt to get your words into a more coherent, written-out-with-sentences form. Drafts don’t have to look like the final product. Drafts are an attempt at paragraphs and organization. Think of this as the starting step for what your essay or written text will become. A few tips for drafting: don’t over think it, just write as much as you can (more is better), and just let go.


Revision is the possibly never-ending process of taking your draft and re-envisioning it. This is when you really need to start considering the form/needs of the genre you are working in and the global issues of your paper (organization, main argument, transitions, clarity). When you think genres, think about how essays are different from prose, are different from cover letters, are different from poems. For example, if you are writing an essay, where is the thesis and is it central in your whole piece? I say revision is possibly never ending because at this point you can revise to your heart’s content (or until the deadline) and leaving yourself the time to revise is of the upmost importance to the writing process. Like the old maxim from da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” There will come a time when you will have to say, “Okay, I think this is where I need to leave my writing for now. It makes enough sense and answers to the assignment/genre.”


Editing is left for last because now that you have addressed the global concerns, you can go through and check your paper for local issues like sentence structure, syntax, and grammar. Editing is the time to “polish” your piece and consider your tone and how you are saying things. A good strategy for this is reading the essay in reverse order, one sentence at a time, to focus on the sentence meaning and not the linear, argument(s) being constructed.

The best thing we (at the Writing Center) can do for you is also help you figure out YOUR PROCESS. That’s the beauty of our approach to peer revision—when you become aware of your process, you can begin to tailor it for your own needs and purposes. That would be our highest and ultimate goal: to facilitate awareness of and define a process that works for YOU. A process you can engage in (and redefine) as you need, long after you stop using the writing center and even long after college.

Please come join us for a session at the center. I mean, you’ve already paid for it in student fees! And you never know what you might learn here, or what we can imagine together.

Writing Resources: visuwords.com

Screen shot of "writing" search on visuwords.comVisuwords is an online visual dictionary and thesaurus. It is a great resource to use when you feel stumped during the brainstorming process, if there’s that one word that’s on the tip of your tongue, and much more.

Here’s how it works: when you search a word, you get a word map that contains a large number of related words, your root word being the center. These other words are related to the root word in some way, like pertaining to the word’s definition, being synonyms, antonyms, or derivations of the root word, and many other helpful things. Also, you are given the definition for each word on the map, which depending on your root word can be near a hundred words.

This is an incredible resource for brainstorming due to the enormous amount of information you will receive just by typing one word. But don’t be intimidated by the large quantity of information you’ll receive—the visual “word cloud” aspect of visuwords make this bombardment of ideas easy to digest. Plus with all the words you’ll be seeing, chances are you’ll improve your vocabulary as well.

I love this resource because it’s great for brainstorming, and a must have for visual learners. Go check it out!

Featured Resource: TED Talks

This week we will be introducing a new bi-weekly article to our website users. The featured resource entry will cover different resources to help our clients more effectively construct and execute their writing.

As a consultant one of the most frequent questions I receive is: “What are good resources to help me write my paper?” The purpose of this reoccurring article is to provide our users with different resources that may help in many different aspects of your writing. Some of the resources will be websites that provide credible information that can then be cited within your document, while others will be resources that answer formatting questions.

This week we will be covering TED Talks. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and is nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED Talks is a resource that features videos of different types of presentations. Some of these presentations are scholarly conference presentations, comedy routines, motivational speakers, and music videos.

All of these videos are credible resources to use in your writing assignments, and many are downright interesting. In preparation for this article I watched some of the videos to observe and analyze so I could better understand the usefulness of this resource.

One of the videos I watched, titled “Cesar Harada: A Novel Idea of Cleaning Up Oil Spills,”  covers a revolutionary concept which multiplies the effectiveness of “oil absorbents” connected to fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico.

This one example showed me many ways these talks can be useful. The first and primary way is the fact that these talks cover current issues in a way that is interactive and understandable across audiences. I didn’t need to know what the chemical properties of oil were or how the current method that is used is ineffective because Cesar Harada used visual elements to illustrate both of these properties. Harada was not talking about the Exxon Valdez, an oil spill that happened twenty years ago, but he spoke about an issue that was currently effecting the way people live in the Gulf today.

As a student, it can be difficult to find up-to-date resources that tackle “current events”, but TED Talks provides a large database of videos doing just that.

The second way that I found TED Talks to be useful was that all of these sources are credible. As a student at any level in the college process, credible resources can be difficult to locate, but more importantly, knowing what sources are credible and which are not becomes difficult at times due to the prevalence of websites like Wikipedia.

Websites like Wikipedia provide massive amounts of information and are always a good place to start, but rarely can we use Wikipedia itself as a credible source. TED Talks remedies this problem in a few ways: first, through a brief search through oil spills on Wikipedia, I found the previously mentioned video as a primary source for oil spill technology; second, TED Talks is its own massive database that has easy to locate tags, with nearly all of the academic videos being presented by professors, students still in college, or professionals who write scholarly articles and establish their credibility by presenting the different processes in which their video presentations are created and the topics they discuss are researched.

The third and last way covered in this article that I found TED Talks useful is: that it is a great resource when you are looking for ideas to start your paper. The amount of different topics on TED Talks is truly mind blowing. There is a little bit for every academic field, and quite a bit for pop culture.  These conversations cover all of the bases. Nearly any topic that may interest you can be easily found.

TED Talks is a great resource that provides credible sources that can be relied upon. Whether you are stuck trying to figure out a topic that you want to write about or you want to find a current approach to age old problem, chances are  TED Talks will have something to help you.