Different Types of Prewriting


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  • #1
If you're reading this post, you're most likely either a writer or you would like to become a writer. Perhaps you're simply reading this post because you're looking for answers to an assignment you've been given in your writing class in high school or college. No matter the reason, we're all in the same boat. We want answers and we want to get better at what we love doing, which is writing.

There's a common occurrence going on out there with writers. I know I do this myself. I get an idea and then sit down to begin typing. For some weird reason, my idea remains, but any amount of typing is no where near forthcoming. It's like my mind goes blank and I sit in front of a blank white screen. I think this is due to my haphazard approach to putting together whatever it is I'd like to write. I begin with no, or very little, structure, which seriously inhibits my progress. It's not that I'm not inspired, because I am. It's just that I sometimes don't know where to begin. I haven't formulated something that makes any sense in my head.

The good news is that what happens to me, happens to everyone. It's called the blank page syndrome. I just made that up, but you can use it. This syndrome is a normal part of writing. We all wonder what to write and how to begin our writing. Even the big guys - famous authors sit down and stare at a blank page for a while. It's tough to get going, but once we do, it's a heck of a lot easier to continue on.

The question is, how can we get past this sticking point of writing? Are there any tools? Techniques? Tricks? Of course there are. What really helps is called prewriting. Prewriting consists of outlines, mind maps, and freewriting. Each of these strategies can help jump that first hurdle to assist with getting in the flow of progress. While they're not guaranteed to work in every case, I've found that just by writing something, I can usually get going to turn nothing into some sort of progress.

In this thread, I'll discuss what prewriting is and what its purpose is. I'll also help you learn some things about yourself; whether you're a linear or associative writer. And finally, I'll explain exactly how the three strategies I mentioned above work and when you might want to take advantage of each one. As always, if you've got anything to add, please don't hesitate to do so down below.


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  • #2

Outlines are for linear writers. Or linear writing. Using them depends on what type of writer you are as well as what you're writing. If you're a free-wheeling creative writer, you may not enjoy using outlines very much. They may actually inhibit or annoy you. If you're highly organized and into technical writing though, outlines are almost a must. If you're over the age of eighteen, you've likely already been introduced to outlines and I'm sure you've got a feeling one way or another about them. Most people either love them or hate them. It really depends on personality type.

To create an outline, it's helpful to first list the most basic core structural components of your piece. These can be introduction, conclusion, and bibliography, if you're including one. If you're writing a short story, list the major sections of the story between those initial components. A novella, do the same thing. A novel, chapter names. If you're writing a paper or assignment for a class, you'll need to think about what you'll actually be writing in the body of the assignment. How many paragraphs do you think it'll take to complete the paper? Once you determine this, write down numbers for those paragraphs and then give a quick note to describe what each is about.

For each paragraph, you'll want to include about three sub-points as well. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
  • Building begins burning down. Crowd of locals appears.
    • Two boys run back into building for rescue.
    • Beam falls knocking one boy out cold.
    • Other boy rescues first boy along with children trapped in building.
By the way, I just described a section of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, when Ponyboy and Johnny ran into the church to help the children who were trapped inside.

Now, if you'll notice, just by writing out the main points of a paragraph, section, chapter, or whatever, the juices begin flowing. For me, by simply writing out the big main point, I'll find myself writing and writing. I don't need much to get going, but I completely understand that others may need some motivation and inspiration. Outlining is an excellent method for getting thoughts down on paper and then running with them. And trust me when I say, running is a heck of a lot easier when you've got something to run with. That's what an outline is for.


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  • #3
Mind Maps

Have you ever seen the Seinfeld episode when Jerry wakes up in the middle of the night to write down a joke idea he derived while sleeping. He said that he did this quite often. Ideas would flow to him while he was asleep and he'd wake up to write them down on paper on his night stand. If he didn't do this, he'd forget the idea by morning. This is sort of how mind maps work. Mind maps are for the more creative types who don't think as linearly as those who enjoy outlines do. They're for the associative writers among us. Can you imagine Jerry waking up and writing out an outline? No, neither can I. Mind maps are about getting ideas out of your mind and onto paper to organize later on. They're for visual thinkers who aren't very structured. Personally, I'm a little of both. I like my structure but I also like getting ideas out to deal with some other time.

Now, remember this; mind maps aren't only useful for serious writing. They're also used for taking notes during a meeting, taking notes during class, or to help with any type of idea recording, such as those for writing short stories or poems.

Here's how a mind map works: take out a piece of paper and write a central idea in the middle of it. Then, draw a circle around the idea. Then, begin writing more subsidiary ideas around the central circle that are related to it. Draw circles around these sub-ideas. These can be serious ideas or merely thoughts. Don't worry so much about how things look, but rather that you get them from your mind to the paper. If you have a sub-idea to a sub-idea, then write that down and draw a circle around it. Finally, when everything is out of your mind and you can't think of anything else, begin drawing lines to show relation between your ideas. All first level sub-ideas should have lines drawn to the center of the paper and all ancillary (second level sub-ideas) ideas should have lines drawn to their sources. When you're all finished, you should have a piece of paper that's filled with bubbles and those bubbles should have words and thoughts contained within them. This new mind map should help you organize your eventual writing. Again, any time you can seduce thoughts from your mind so they're visually in front of you is a good thing.

Here's an example of a nice mind map I grabbed from Venngage:



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  • #4

As you'll notice, so far, the prewriting techniques I've listed have been about getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper. This final technique, freewriting, is no different. The idea behind freewriting is to write so freely and so much that something of value just has to come out. It's sort of like brainstorming. You just go and go and go until you have no place else to go.

If you've been given and assignment or have something you need to write and your mind is completely blank, put your pen to paper and begin writing. It doesn't matter what you write to start out with, but keep your goal at the forefront. If you are required to write about how the internet is affecting young children's minds, feel free to begin your writing with how blue the sky is today. Then, discuss some pretty flowers and then start writing about the internet as a whole. Eventually, make your way to children and then children who use the internet.

Here's the thing - after you begin writing, don't remove your pen from your paper and continue writing for an allotted amount of time. If you give yourself ten minutes, then write for the entire ten minutes without stopping. This is a flow exercise. The goal is to write so much that you'll be able to pull some golden nuggets from your work. It's really to get you going and to get over the hump of staring at that blank piece of paper. It's sort of like tricking you into being productive. If you start out writing about your cat on the windowsill, you'll eventually loosen up to the point of writing about what you're being instructed to write about.

If you have any other tricks, tips, or techniques that you think will help writers get past the very first hurdle of writing, please share down below. Also, please share your experiences with using the techniques I described above, if you've taken advantage of them in the past.