Every writer thinks about the writing and revision process, but one thing that commonly gets forgotten is prewriting.
Prewriting is the exercises and strategies a writer takes before beginning the writing process. When you prewrite, you organize your thoughts and prepare to work on your piece. This can be as simple as making a bullet point list or doing a freewriting exercise before working on your novel.
When a writer prewrites, they’re looking to prepare themselves for what’s to come. Whether that’s expanding the imagination or getting ready to put thoughts into words, the prewriting process is important to help boost your creativity and give you a direction.
Here’s a few prewriting strategies that you can use to start improving as a writer today.
Brainstorming ideas is one of the best ways to prepare yourself to write. After all, the more ideas you have to choose from, the greater the chance you’ll find something that’s worth writing about.
Have you ever wrote something in school because it was the first thing that came to mind? As you know, that strategy may or may not work in your favor.
Those who take the time to come up with multiple ideas and explore different approaches can build a better piece. The more in-depth thinking you have during the prewriting stage, the more you can shape your writing.
Brainstorming before you write has two functions: looking at writing from different angles, and to expanding your creativity.
Let’s take a look at how both of these can help positively influence the writing process.
Looking at different angles
When we write, we’re making a statement about something. Writers are always saying something about the characters, world, and themes of their novel.
That means you need to know every approach you can take when portraying those characters and themes. This will not only help point you in the direction you want to go, but you’ll also have a fundamental understanding of what you don’t want your work to be.
Think of this way: you want to make sure your characters are portraying exactly what you intended. That means you want to choose language, action, and dialogue that matches your overarching goal.
Take a moment to write down your themes and the different words you associate with them. This will help you focus your writing and present a better understanding of the topic.
Expanding your creativity
The second part to brainstorming is learning to expand your creativity.
Have you ever sat down to write but nothing came to mind? It happens to every writer at some point in time, and that’s because it can be challenging to come up with engaging ideas day after day.
However, brainstorming can help you generate a flow of unique ideas that can continue to inspire and motivate your writing.
The best part is this exercise isn’t exclusive to before you begin writing! You can continue to brainstorm every day for thirty minutes a day as an exercise to help generate new characters, scenarios, and ideas.
Here’s a few brainstorming activities you can do to expand your creativity:
Freewriting is when you sit down and write without constraint. This exercise involves sitting down and writing whatever comes to mind, and there’s no preplanning involved.
When a writer freewrites, they usually do it for a certain period of time before working on their novel. It’s recommended to freewrite for at least thirty minutes to give yourself enough time to write down your thoughts and imagery.
Freewriting is a way to open your mind and explore new characters, ideas, and scenarios that may or may not be related to your book. This prewriting activity can help you come up with new ideas and find new ways to express yourself.
The best part of freewriting is that all you need is a piece of paper, pencil, and imagination!
Writing with a prompt
Another great way to brainstorm ideas is to write with a prompt. This is when a topic or idea is handed to you, and you write something with the character, theme, or scenario given.
Writing with a prompt can help you explore new ideas and come up with new characters. It’s also an excellent way to help build your writing skills and get out of your comfort zone.
When you use a prompt, try to write for at least thirty minutes to a half hour. You want to make sure you’re utilizing this prewriting activity to explore something new.
You can find plenty of prompts online or buy a writing prompt book for reference. Here’s a great prompt generator website to get started.
Listing is exactly how it sounds: you make a list of ideas.
When you begin listing, you’ll want to start with one idea or theme. For example, you can start with the words “Cats.” Related ideas in your list could include cat food, declawing, and cat care.
After you create your list, you can start combining or expanding upon the ideas for your writing. These lists can also be turned into prompts or freewriting activities as well.
Here’s some tips for listing:
- Group similar ideas together
- Find recurring themes
- Give everything a label
- Narrow down the list until your flow makes sense
Utilize listing as a prewriting strategy to help come up with topic ideas. You’ll also be able to find related words, phrases, and ideas you can incorporate into your writing.
Journaling is when a writer writes about their day, experiences, or other personal events. When you journal, you’re expressing yourself and writing down what happened today.
Writing a journal can help you find relatable experiences, ideas, and passions that resonate with you. Once you find what motivates you towards success, you can later turn these ideas into themes in your writing.
Think about it: writing is a personal endeavor. You’re showing your readers a piece of yourself, so you want to make sure you’re providing a message they can get behind. Choosing something you believe in will fuel your writing.
A mind that’s open to writing about something that matters to you will be able to come up with a story that delights and engages readers. Consider incorporating a prewriting activity like journaling to help boost your imagination!
Asking Yourself Questions
Another prewriting activity is asking yourself questions before you start writing. Answering questions can help you shape a picture before you get into your work.
Here’s a sample list of questions to help get you started:
- Who. Who are the characters? Who is affected by these circumstances? Who should care?
- What. What’s happening in your writing? What is the big statement you’re making? What is the scene, the characters, the lore, or the big idea?
- Where. Where does your scene take place? Where is this writing relevant? Where is this happening in the world?
- How. How exactly is this happening? How can the reader learn from this experience? How can your character accomplish their goal?
- Why. Why are your characters like this? Why is this event or scenario happening? Why is someone motivated by something?
Answering these questions can help give you a better grasp of your work before you start. After all, you want to make sure you’re engaging your audience in a way that they will care about!
Clustering or Mind Mapping
Another prewriting activity to help expand your creativity is clustering, also known as mind mapping.
Clustering is when you write down the big theme or idea on the center of the page, and then write similar ideas around it.
Clustering is similar to listing in that you can take the words you write and group them together. This prewriting activity will help you find ideas in a visual way.
Try using different colors to mark different themes you find within your mind map. You can also use a whiteboard so you can easily move and group ideas, too!
Narrowing Down Your Topic
Another important part of prewriting is narrowing down what you’re going to write about. As writers, sometimes we have lots of ideas, but it’s not always feasible to incorporate everything.
The amount you narrow down your topic will depend on what you’re writing. For example, if you’re making a blog post, it’s best to answer a single question. If you’re writing a book, you want to make sure that you write your scenes in a way that focus in on a particular sequence of events.
Imagine this: you write a scene where the main characters have a break up, learn they both failed a test, are going to detention together because of the failed test, and the girl in the relationship just so happens to be moving next door. All of these ideas are great, but you should separate them out into chapters that narrow down the events that happen and focus on the result of each.
If you include too many ideas or topics on the same page, the reader won’t be able to focus. That’s why it’s always better to ask yourself, “What is the goal of this scene or paragraph?” while you prewrite.
Narrowing down your topic during the prewriting stage can also help you save time because you won’t include unnecessary information. You’ll also have a direction you can build off of for future drafts.
Make a Pros and Cons List
One prewriting activity you can utilize the narrow down your ideas is creating a pros and cons list.
The idea is simple: write down all of the pros of your idea, as well as the cons. This will help you think of the good and bad when it comes to your topic.
A pros and cons list can be especially helpful for opinion-based or persuasive pieces, since you’re arguing in favor of your points.
Try making a pros and cons list where you draw a line down the middle of the page. This will help you visually see your ideas and help you organize them!
Find the purpose or reason for writing
When you prewrite, you want to find out why you’re writing. This will help guide you in your journey to eliminate any unnecessary ideas or information.
For example, let’s say you want to write about minimalism. There’s so much that goes into the topic, from the benefits to the potential downsides. You’ll want to find the single purpose for approaching this topic, and what you want the reader to learn.
Think of it this way: why should someone care? Your writing should strive to answer that question.
One way to find your purpose during the prewriting stage is brainstorming a list of related ideas. Make a diagram of everything related to the topic, and then find the common trends that you come up with. This can help you find a direction and help you critically think during the prewriting phase.
Other ways you can find your purpose for writing is:
- Thinking about your overarching point. Do you want to make a commentary on a subject, or simply entertain? Knowing your end goal can help you narrow things down when you prewrite.
- Knowing what motivates you to write. When you write, something lights the passion that sets off your fingertips. Understanding what does this can help you motivate yourself to write something meaningful.
- Setting a single goal. If you had to choose one goal for the reader, then what would it be? That can also help you narrow down your ideas.
Come up with ideas and narrow things down. Who knows, you might even come up with material you can use for a related piece!
Another prewriting activity that can be overlooking by writers is outlining. Outlining is when you sit down and think about the sequence of events before you write.
Outlines can be simple or complex depending on the writer’s needs. Some writers will make character charts filled with their character’s histories, personality traits, and aesthetics. Other writers will make a detailed outline that lists chapter-for-chapter what’s going to happen in their novel.
An outline can help give you a direction before you work on your writing because you’re essentially planning in advance. You’ll always have something to look back on when you’re stuck, and you won’t have the excuse of not knowing what to do next.
In the long run, an outline can help save you time because you’re pre-planning. How detailed your outline is will depend on your topic and direction you’re taking with your writing.
There’s many pros and cons to outlining, but try this prewriting activity to help guide your writing!
Tips for Outlining
When you outline, you want to make sure you’re getting the best use of your time. That means when you create an outline, it should be something you’re going to use to actively guide you through the writing process.
Here’s a few tips you can use to make a great outline during the prewriting process:
- Think about what you need. Do you tend to forget your character’s traits or histories? Or maybe you’re building a whole new language and need to keep track of the words. The outlines you make should reflect what you’d like to go back and reference.
- Make them easy to read. You want your outlines to be organized by bullet points and spacing that help you easily scan. After all, these guides will be used as you continue to write.
- Try to condense thoughts. When you outline, you want to make sure everything is tight and doesn’t go off on a tangent. Your direction should always be easy to follow, and you want your outline to be something you can refer to when you’re stuck.
If you haven’t tried using an outline, it’s worth trying this prewriting activity to help organize your thoughts.
Think about your target audience
Another important step of prewriting process is thinking about who you’re writing for.
That’s right: everything you write should have an definable audience that can be categorized and measured.
But your writing’s for everyone, right?
Well, yes and no.
Sure, someone who wouldn’t typically read what you’re writing can enjoy your work, but you should write with a marketable demographic in mind. That means you want to know what the common person typically interested in your topic or genre likes and expects.
You also have to accept that there will always be a demographic of people who will never be interested in your writing, even if it’s the next Shakespeare.
For example, this blog is about writing, and people who have no intention of learning the craft will likely never read one of my posts. It doesn’t matter how well-researched or thorough they are, there will always be people who will never be interested.
On the flip side, there’s people who will always care about your topic or genre. That means those are the people you’re trying to market your writing to.
For example, if you’re writing a book about how to care for a cat, your audience is people looking to adopt a fur baby. If you’re writing a young adult fantasy novel, then your primary target audience is teenagers who like fiction.
You want your prewriting to include identifying your demographic in order to tailor your writing. This will also help you take other important steps such as defining a reading level and choosing what vernacular you include.
Of course, you could still take a risk and do something new the market hasn’t seen before; however, having a solid understanding of the market before you write will help you increase your chances of success.
Identifying demographics in the prewriting stage has two steps: brainstorming the ideal customer, and determining the actual ones that exist.
The ideal target audience of your writing is who you’re hoping to write for. If you’re writing a vampire romance, then you might hope to capture in on teenagers who enjoy reading Twilight.
You always want to begin your research process with a demographic in mind. This gives you a starting point as you search for your true demographic.
Now after you do some research, you realize Twilight was published in 2005, which is nearly fifteen years ago! That means teenagers today might not have the same tastes, and there’s an older generation of people who might still love reading vampire romance because they grew up on it.
Let’s hypothetically say your research shows teenagers don’t read vampire romance — instead, they read romance with elves. The older generation would be the actual target audience for such a work in this scenario.
See how defining demographics can become complex? In this hypothetical, whether you choose to target teenagers today or the older crowd will depend on your goals and marketability of your work. That means you might need to adapt for the times depending on the demographic you’re looking to write for.
Tips for identifying your demographic
Figuring out your target demographic during the prewriting stage can be tricky, but it isn’t impossible. All you need to do is research your audience, the market, and what’s out there.
Here’s a list of things you should know about your demographic:
- How old are they?
- What is their gender?
- Do they live in a specific region?
- What kinds of related hobbies do they have?
- What social media platforms do they use?
- What works in your same genre do they like? What works don’t they?
- Where do they live?
- What job(s) do they typically have?
- What is there education level?
Look to answer most, if not all, of these questions in the prewriting stage. This will help you target your writing and make it something you know people will enjoy!
Prewriting will help you save time and boost creativity!
With all of these prewriting strategies in mind, you’ll be able to take the next step in working on your next great novel.
Take the time to plan and expand upon your creativity.
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