Pre-writing, not to be confused with research, is being ready for serious work.
| Sail forth—steer for the deep waters only, |
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me, 120
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all."
Walt Whitman - From Passage to India
Prewriting starts with the author’s mindset, since prewriting is brainstorming, free-flow, discovering, questioning, and finding a place for the discoveries made. During this process, you might write pages and pages of nonsense, but even the writing you consider nonsense has the possibility of becoming the step to lead you to higher levels. As a matter of fact, everything you write can become a step to the next level.
Your first draft is not considered prewriting since prewriting is not for the readers’ eyes. It takes place before the first draft of an original text or even before outlining a plot or putting together a synopsis.
Research and note-gathering, for the historical and geographical backgrounds for example, are also actions that need to be done before the first draft, but they are not prewriting either; they are research.
Prewriting is a receptive process. It involves listening, stepping back, and opening up. During the process of prewriting, you do not worry about grammar and syntax, but you just keep writing whatever comes as it comes. Consequently, you may end up writing files full of words that are not publishable or even readable, but you’ll build up a foundation for greatness. The reason is, great ideas often find their way into our work disguised as stray, goofy thoughts and they usually show up unforced and uninvited.
Does all prewriting have to be aimless, then? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If you don’t know what you want to write about but the urge to write is there, aimless free-flow can lead you to an idea, a theme, an interesting character, or a plot section. If you know what you want to write about, however, you want your brainstorming take a direction toward the elements in your story.
The most important aspect of prewriting is getting to know your characters and becoming comfortable with them. Some writers conduct interviews with their characters; others write letters to them. Yet others put the characters in different life situations and try to find out how they will react to those situations.
Journaling, if it is free-flow, can be called a form of prewriting. Many writers come across ideas for stories in their diaries and journals.
Making lists is a form of prewriting, too, especially if the list is about things deep inside you, your characters, or the human psyche in general.
Here are a few prompts for prewriting:
1. Write a list of ten things or a few paragraphs for each of the following:
Suffering is … (for me or for a character)
To be wounded is… (for me or for a character)
Some vulnerable positions are… (for me or for a character)
Some vulnerable situations are… (for me or for a character)
Some joyous situations are... (for me or for a character)
2. Keep a body journal : Each day notice the sensations in your body. And write those in as much detail as you can, injecting other thoughts and dreams into those sensations, if you wish. For example, when someone criticizes you which part of your body reacts to it, or if you see, hear, taste, or feel something, where in your body you feel a sensation? Do not limit yourself. Let yourself go. Remember this writing is for your eyes only.
3. Each day, write a list of things, events, feelings, and sensations making that day different from the other days. You may begin with: Today is...
4. Make a list of several set-ups for and demonstrations of vengeance, love, hate, joy, acceptance, prejudice, loneliness, self-pity, shame, pride, regret, surprise, suspicion, sympathy, worry, hope, empathy and all other emotions you can think of.
5. Pick instances and incidents from your life. What would you do that could change everything, if you were to relive them? What about your characters? What would they change in their lives?
6. Take an old story or an unfinished story, and just go crazy with it by putting the characters in different times and places or twisting the plots in unexpected paths. Do not stop or criticize yourself if these writings turn absurd or totally ludicrous.
Have fun with these prompts, and I hope your prewriting can lead to works of great depth.