Where do ideas come from? When faced with the challenge (or the promise) of a blank page, where does the writer start? It’s the question I’ve been asking my classes in the past couple of weeks, as we set sail into the new term. The conversation often takes us into the difficulty of knowing how and where to start; at which point, in a effort to stop brows becoming more furrowed than they already are, I invite them to make a cluster. There are two lovely examples in Linda Anderson’s Creative Writing, A Workbook With Readings (Routledge and Open University, 2006, pp25-26), one of them using ‘grandmother’ as its starting point and the other using ‘ice’. You write your chosen word in the centre of the page and freewrite a cluster of word associations leading out from the centre. They look a little like mind maps or strings of bladderwrack. They are best done quickly without time to self-censor. For instance, the word ‘snow’ might take me in one string from flake, to chocolate, to bitter, to tears. Another string might go along the lines of ice, cream, tea, warm, comfort, friend. Each one is unique and will probably only make sense to the writer, but they are a sure fire way to fill the page. This week I’ve invited several groups to start with a cluster around a word of their own choice. As the next step I ask them to look at their clusters and find the suggestion of a character, a setting and a situation that could offer potential for a story. I wonder what they’ll bring back next week? As for me, I’m thinking about someone who arrives on a friend’s doorstep in tears on a freezing cold day, hoping for tea and comfort. What has just happened…? What is about to happen…? One thing’s for sure; the page is no longer empty.