Whether you have an assigned subject or choose your own, you need to get focused and engaged with the project. Assigned subjects may look limiting at first, but they offer plenty of room for individual expression. Open subjects, while promising great freedom, can be daunting because they don't provide direction. They leave it all up to you. Yet these two situations, different as they appear, present simi­lar challenges.

Talking with friends, we shape our thoughts freely and spontaneously as words rise to our attention and find their way into conversation. We discov­er what to say by saying it, and in the process often surprise ourselves with fresh insights and powerful language. Freewriting is an attempt to capture that same verbal energy on paper. Freewriting means just what it says: writing freely, without restrictions. When freewriting, you can write whatever you like without regard to spelling, grammar, paragraphing, or whether it makes any sense.

When considering what to write, we often think first of ideas, but we'd do well to recall the words of William Carlos Williams, "No ideas but in things." Williams wasn't knocking ideas, just pointing out that they have roots in the concrete particulars of daily experience. Thoughts grow from what we see, taste, smell, and feel: morning steam on a mountain lake, a strawberry dipped in cream, or a crowd squeezing into the subway.

Six questions traditionally asked by journalists — who? what? when? where? how? and why? — can be valuable aids to invention in all types of writing. By using them as probes, you'll look at your subject more closely, and as you do, you'll find pertinent things to say.

Developed by Kenneth Burke, and sometimes called the Pentad because of its five key terms, Dramatism offers a simple yet effective way to generate ideas. It resembles the Journalist's Questions and, like them, can be applied to many topics.