The Writing Process: Step One

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Prewriting. Freewriting. Mind Mapping. Clustering. If you’ve taken a creative writing or English composition class, you’ve likely encountered these terms. They represent an important step in the writing process and, in my view, the easiest and most fun. The gist of prewriting is to let ideas flow directly from your brain to the page, before they can be edited into submission.

Prewriting Techniques to Jump-Start Creativity

Whether you opt for the tried-and-true “wheel” approach (with subcategories radiating like spokes from your central theme), or a linear, list-based approach, the goal of all prewriting exercises is the same: freeing your subconscious mind to generate ideas, with a focus on quantity versus quality.

You have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, so enjoy this opportunity to celebrate your creative genius. Later in the writing process, as you grow attached to your “darlings,” you may find it more difficult to indulge your imagination.

Try these prewriting techniques from Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander:

7 Prewriting Exercises to Launch the Writing Process:

  1. Mind Mapping. The mind map helps you record all of your ideas for a particular piece or scene. Use a sketchbook or piece of typing paper. You can use a regular pen or pencil, or colored markers and pencils.
  2. Brainstorming. Use this tool when you need to generate ideas. Write a list of everything you think might be helpful for writing about this topic or scene. Write as fast as you can and in no particular order. Don’t edit yourself. You may not understand what an idea has to do with your book, but your brain has an idea. Set your brain free to dream.
  3. Freewriting. When you need to release ideas from your subconscious mind, the free write can be a helpful tool. Set a timer for twenty minutes and write as fast as you can about your ideas for the piece you are writing. Don’t analyze or judge anything you write. Don’t think about this writing in connection with the finished piece, just write.
  4. Directed Questions. This tool helps you get clear about your ideas for the chapter or piece of writing. It can also help you narrow your focus. Interview yourself about the ideas you are working on. For a nonfiction chapter or article, ask and answer questions such as:
  • What is my main point?
  • What do I really want to say?
  • What effect do I want to have on my readers?
  • What points do I need to include to make this clear?

If you are working on a fiction scene or chapter, ask questions like:

  • What does each character want?
  • What does each character feel?
  • How does the action convey the desires and emotions of each character?
  • What mood am I creating in this scene?
  • What needs to happen in this scene to move the story forward?
  • What elements of setting contribute to the scene?
  1. Playing Journalist. If you are stuck about where to start a piece, it can be helpful to list the basic facts that any journalist would start with in a piece. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Then ask yourself, what’s the most interesting angle?
  2. Mapping It. If you are writing a novel or a memoir, it can be helpful to create a visual map of each location you are writing about. If you are writing a memoir, when you create the map of a house and the landmarks nearby, you will remember stories you can use in your work. Either way, keep the map near you when you write so you can refer to it.
  3. Talking it out. I’ve noticed that my writing-coaching clients who are speakers and teachers get their best ideas when they have an audience. If this is you, think about talking through your ideas with a friend or a small group of colleagues. Record the conversation and transcribe your words of wisdom as a first step toward gathering your ideas together for a book.

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