Prewriting Without the Boredom of Prewriting
by Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center
As the festivities officially wind down from the busy holiday months, many of us face a new year with a slew of fresh, exciting writing assignments that could use a bit of prewriting assistance. As the homework begins to pile up and the exams become more and more frequent, the recently-lost tension begins to creep into our lives slowly but surely. In an attempt to combat any “All work and no play” letters from being typed by yours truly, I decided to take it upon myself to reinvent myself as a writer. This year, instead of dwelling on the lows of 2013, I decided to critique and altogether change my prewriting techniques as my old methods proved too stale and, between us and these very words, boring. Because of this realization, I created two alternative prewriting activities that may well appeal to a writer or educator in need of some serious change.
Prewriting Activity: The Sticky-Note Nightmare
Though the title sounds more like a fantastic 1980’s slasher flick, the act itself is far less terrifying and predictable. To begin,
- Jot down one word or phrase that you will centralize your thoughts around—we will consider this our “idea note.”
- Next, being as detailed as you would like, write any idea that comes to mind pertaining to your topic on one sticky-note, peal it from the pile, and place it within sight in front of you. (The process does not require neatness; instead, be a little messy with it! Not all of the ideas generated will make it to the page—and that is perfectly fine! Half of the fun in this activity involves stepping away from the chaos and having a good laugh at some of the sillier ideas that found their way onto the notes. )
- After composing yourself, remove some of the more random ideas that deviate from your initial “idea note” and see what remains. The most useful and pertinent notes can then be expanded upon and then organized accordingly. (I personally place my useful notes in a sequential order after I feel complete. The shape rarely matters, though I find that a traditional straight line works best for my train of thought.)
- Experiment with some different organizational styles, but always be sure to accomplish the assignment! Your instructor will never know that you created a strange-looking face with your sticky-notes—I promise!
Prewriting Activity: My next piece of writing? Oh, it’s over there—in the trash!
How many times have we correlated tossing terrible ideas into the trash?
Instead of using the trash bin as a place of negativity, use it, instead, as a place for all of your ideas!
- As you jot down your ideas, do not give a second thought to the quality of the work; just write down your thought, crumple up the paper, and toss it in the “trash.” (When I am in the process of writing something, I typically place an additional trash bin next to the pre-existing garbage and recycling for this very reason—and because my macaroni and cheese is not part of my thesis statement!)
- Once the bin becomes full, or the assignment due date sneaks up on you, empty the contents and begin organizing them accordingly.
- Now, as you filter through the writing, you can really place the not-so-brilliant ideas in the actual garbage and give those leftover meatballs a friend to snuggle with. What the writer is then left with includes a handful of crumpled papers with random ideas scattered across the page—this is where the fun begins!
- From here, organize your ideas accordingly.
As the author, you call the shots, but I would strongly suggest adhering to your assignment and/or writing plan to best reach your audience! I try to always organize my writing into what looks to be a tattered old book—my newest “trashy piece of writing.” I treat each worthwhile idea as if it were a chapter in a book, making sure that each chapter covers at least a portion of the assignment. To keep matters simple, the chapters of this particular text are sequential for purposes of flow, allowing the writer to see the progression of their work from start to finish.
These activities, while slightly different, do require a bit of work and should not be viewed as the only prewriting practice required to achieve great results. Finding your perfect prewriting fit takes time and practice . . . so why not toss these into the mix and see if they work for you?
Go for the gold in your day
Sometime before 2014 began, I read an idea for nourishing positive thinking and recording memories of the year’s events. On a sticky note each day write down one good thing that happened that day, and place those notes in a glass jar to watch them grow. Imagine next new year’s eve, reading about all the good things that happened in 2014. I thought wow, this might be a great way to jog my memory for writing a memoir chapter (or many chapters) about this new year.
The bright and shining new January 1, 2014, rolled around. I had not indulged heavily the night before, felt great, and was just beginning to formulate a plan for the day when my daughter called. She invited me out to eat oysters. I assumed we would all go, husband, house guests, and maybe her mother-in-law and my nine month old granddaughter. When I arrived at her house, I could sense her mood was less than stellar. Her mother-in-law from Slovakia who speaks very little English had been visiting with them since before Thanksgiving. I knew nerves were recently wearing thin. A debate ensued about who would go, during which her husband encouraged my daughter and I to just go on and have a good time. He did not want to go. After much discussion, the tension built to a disturbing crescendo, and it was concluded that no one was going out for oysters. Although disappointed and a bit sad the day was not perfect for my daughter, I left undaunted thinking I could have done without the invitation, without witnessing family drama, and started my new year on a much more positive note by myself.
Later that night, when I remembered it was time to contribute my first gift to the jar, I wondered how I would find something positive to say about this less than perfect day. This is what my note said: “I kissed and hugged my beautiful granddaughter Lilium, whose smile is dazzling.” Satisfied that this was the quintessential best part of the day, I dropped it into the jar and vowed to find and record the next 364 gold nuggets of 2014.
Thanks for your great comment, Nancy. This would make a good blog post, too. HMMMM. 🙂