Writing

How to Use Prewriting to Improve Your Writing Process

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 6, 2019 • 3 min read

Any experienced author will tell you that the writing process doesn’t begin by instantly typing a first draft. For most people, the first stage of the writing process doesn’t involve drafting at all. It involves a combination of brainstorming and organizing in a process that’s known as prewriting.

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What Is Prewriting?

Prewriting is the first step in a standard writing process, and it involves generating ideas, general organizing, and outlining. Authors from all sides of the writing profession—novelists, essayists, reporters, columnists, playwrights, screenwriters, speechwriters, and academics—use prewriting techniques to stay organized and efficient while working on a writing assignment.

Authors who prewrite typically brainstorm first, identifying a central idea that could be an interesting topic for a piece of writing. Then, as they engage in preliminary research—using both primary and secondary sources—they may use note-taking techniques to jot down key concepts. From there they might try a warm-up writing task to spur creativity or dive straight into outlining.

What Is the Purpose of Prewriting?

Although it delays the start of a first draft, the prewriting process can generate creative premises, reveal central premises, unlock original ideas, and fend off writer’s block. Most importantly, it helps an author organize their ideas, a strategy that yields great dividends when they start the writing process and begin their actual draft.

In academic writing—such as a research paper or a literature review—and persuasive essay writing, prewriting can generate an overall thesis statement and the topic sentence of key paragraphs and chapters. It can also help organize the research notes that will become your text citations.

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4 Prewriting Strategies to Prepare You for Your First Draft

The following prewriting strategies can provide a great starting point for your writing project:

  1. Brainstorming: By brainstorming before you write, you can enter a creative space where you say “yes” to every idea that passes through your mind. It is important not to limit yourself with self-criticism during the brainstorming process. Get as many ideas onto your sheet of paper or computer screen as you can, even if the vast majority won’t make it into your final product. Brainstorming is for thinking freely; editing comes later.
  2. Freewriting: Although freewriting won’t be sufficient to complete full drafts of most writing projects, it can provide a great starting point. Closely related to brainstorming, freewriting is an open-ended, unedited exercise where the writer follows the impulses of their own mind, allowing thoughts and inspiration to appear to them without premeditation. You don’t even need to use complete sentences when you freewrite. Some freewriters set a time limit on their freewriting session. After a predetermined amount of time, they stop writing and evaluate what’s on the page. If the piece of writing has yielded good ideas, then the author typically continues the process. If, on the other hand, the practice of freewriting isn’t offering enough structure, the author may abandon this technique in favor of something more traditionally structured.
  3. The snowflake method: The snowflake method, created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, is a technique for crafting a novel from scratch by starting with a basic story summary and adding elements from there. To begin using the snowflake method, think of a story idea and describe it with a one-sentence summary. Then build that sentence into a paragraph, using that paragraph to create various character descriptions. From there, you use those descriptions to create a series of storylines that involve those characters.
  4. Mind mapping: Mind mapping, which is also known as idea mapping or concept mapping, is a prewriting method often favored by nonfiction writers who prefer visual diagrams. To use the mind mapping technique, identify your piece’s main idea and place it at the center of a hub-and-spoke style diagram where supporting ideas branch off from central concepts. Each idea can serve as a hub with additional spokes, so a mind map can easily occupy multiple pages.

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