Write before you Write – PreWriting

Prewriting – what is it?  Well, prewriting is writing before you write.  Wait – what?

In a recent LTUE Panel, Michaelbrent Collings, Holli Anderson, Lisa Magnum, Eric James Stone, and the irreproachable Johnny Worthen discussed this oddly-named process and provided some insight into what it really means.  (Phew – experts to rely on – they know stuff ’cause they’re like that)*.

First of all, I want to start with something that Michaelbrent Collings mentioned as part of his closing remarks, but that I feel would be a more appropriate disclaimer at the beginning of the discussion.  He said, “Anything that makes it so that you can write something later, or that recharges your creative batteries, or lets you get into that space where the crap in your head can squirt out onto the page, IS writing.  Writing is not just the process of making words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into chapters and books.  Writing is anything that gets you from idea to completion (LTUE, 2014).”

So, what is prewriting?  It is the process of worldbuilding, outlining (if that’s your style), summarizing, sketching, thinking, planning – whatever it is that you do in order to prepare yourself and your characters for the journey that you are about to take together.  So, some key points from the “experts.”

  • Find your own style of what works for you and stick with it (note that it may vary from project to project, but do what works for you)
  • Spend the majority of your time on prewriting (depending on your style)
  • When prewriting, pick a theme (love, hate, revenge, the little blue robots taking over humanity again, whatever) that you are trying to address and use it like a lighthouse to guide you through the process**
  • Figure out a system for the compilation and easy access of information you’ll need during the process
  • Pay attention to visual vs. descriptive details – get your smells, sights, sounds, feels correct – also, don’t annoy the gun people out there – they like their guns and will know when you mess something up – do your homework
  • For those of you who do not always stick to the chronology when writing, write what makes you happy at the time (or use that next great scene you want to get to as the carrot for getting through the part that you’re stuck on (again))
  • If it helps, set your daily goals now during prewriting – know what you need to hit when

In essence, what I get from this panel was this – the only way to get from point A (idea) to point B (finished novel) is by doing the work to get you there.  You have to do your homework, which is prewriting (and drafting, which was a different panel).  The novel is the test that you’re preparing for.  Now, I know some of you may ask when is it time to switch over from prewriting to drafting – Michaelbrent Collings said it this way (paraphrasing), “If you feel like you’re ready to start writing the work then you’ve done too much.  You need to leave yourself something to still discover.  If you feel ready to write it, odds are its already written.”

What are some other tips for the prewriting stage?  What has worked for you?  Let us know in the comments!


*This was part one of a 3-part series which was – bar none – the best series of panels at the convention in my opinion.  Not to mention that Michaelbrent and Johnny are just funny funny dudes

**This one is attributed to Johnny Worthen – for details on his lighthouse analogy, go ask him to tell you the story.  His blog is here (http://johnnyworthen.blogspot.com/) or you can find him on FB

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2 thoughts on “Write before you Write – PreWriting

  1. Timothy – that is a great way of doing it. It is similar to the approach that Johnny Worthen uses when he talks about the “lighthouse.” He starts from the end (central theme) and works his way out. I find this useful as well. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Timothy Rauschenbach

    For me, prewriting is a matter of taking a central message or purpose, then laying a structure around it. First, I choose some related themes that complement the central one. Then I mold some characters with those themes in mind, thinking of how they would interact and collide to represent the ideas I want my work to portray. After I’ve figured that out, the plot comes naturally, since it’s just a mapping-out of those same interactions and collisions, but with accompanying and overarching conflicts. While it might not be as effective for those who already have a set plot progression in mind, it’s an excellent way to ensure my writing stays focused.

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