There’s plenty of advice out there about how to write, how to edit, how to publish, how to market, etc. But not many people outside of academia talk about pre-writing and how important that step is for authors.
What is pre-writing?
According to Dr. Donald Murray, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and English professor, the writing process has three stages: pre-writing, writing, and rewriting. Pre-writing doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it is an essential part of the process no matter how you do it.
In “The Prewriting Stage of the Writing Process,” Melissa Kelly argues that pre-writing is the most important part of writing for students because it is the “generating ideas” part of the process. She lists various pre-writing methods: brainstorming, freewriting, mind maps, drawing/doodling, asking questions, and outlining.
How does pre-writing apply to fiction?
While I’m not sure I agree with Kelly that pre-writing is the most important part of writing, I do think writers need to spend more time reflecting on it and honing their pre-writing skills to jumpstart their creativity. This applies to plotters and discovery writers alike.
Pre-writing allows you to take the spark of an idea and grow it into something greater, something that swirls in your brain and begs to be put on paper. Pre-writing is the delicious limbo period of ideas where there’s no pressure, just a free exploration of where you can go and what you can do.
When you learn the pre-writing methods that work best for you, you can indulge in this simmering of ideas and shape them into a stronger story before you even write a single word.
What does pre-writing look like for fiction writers?
What’s most important here is that you find the method that works best for you. It doesn’t matter how another writer achieved success because they don’t have your strengths. Your process will be unique because you are a unique writer. It doesn’t hurt to explore multiple ways of doing things, but once you find what works, lean into that.
The six methods Kelly listed—brainstorming, freewriting, mind maps, drawing/doodling, asking questions, and outlining—could work just as well for fiction writers as they do for students.
But one method Kelly doesn’t list is thinking. This might seem obvious, but I believe thinking is an underrated method of pre-writing. And I’m not referring solely to conscious thinking, either.
Have you ever gotten a fantastic idea while you’re in the shower, driving somewhere, or just falling asleep? That’s not a fluke. When you’re in a state of rest, your brain is in its most effective creative mode.
The unconscious mind is fantastic at generating ideas and solutions if you give it time and space to work. Allowing your brain creative freedom is a huge reason why I champion rest (both active and passive) and time off. Here are a few examples of activities that can give your brain creative space:
Hobbies like baking, knitting, reading, painting
Outdoor activities like kayaking, rock climbing, hiking
For more on why rest is important, see “Why rest is good for you and your creativity” by Christine Long. I also recommend Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.
If your mind is already working on creative ideas, being well-rested can boost that pre-writing process and help you work out where your story needs to go, how your character needs to solve a problem, how your magic system works, etc.
So, give yourself space to pre-write. Find a pre-writing method that works well for you—even if it’s just thinking!—work pre-writing time into your process, then get your story out there!
If you already have words on the page and you’re looking for an editor, apply for editing to work with me!