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Prewriting: Having Trouble Putting Words on the Page?

A guide on how to master the art of prewriting

Authors have their own writing habits, and sometimes they can be slightly odd—they may have to write first thing in the morning, only late at night, or never on Tuesdays! When asked, every author will offer different advice about how to begin the prewriting process. Booker Prize-winning author Anne Enright said, "The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page." While this is sensible advice, it is not always easy to follow. Whether you are new to writing or are successfully published, you may find yourself full of ideas, but with no clue about where or how to start. One method many authors use is prewriting. What is prewriting, you ask? It is simply the first stage of writing and generally includes planning, mapping, research, outlining, storyboarding, and so on. Basically, prewriting is everything that happens before you start "putting words on the page."

Step one: Create an outline

One of the first things you should do in the prewriting stage is to write a brief statement about the core of your story. Your story has to have a goal—something that the main character must do or accomplish—and a conflict—something that your main character must overcome to reach his/her goal. This is also called a plot skeleton. At the very minimum, you should know how your story will begin and end. When you begin the prewriting process, you need to know where you are starting and where you want to end up; otherwise, you'll get lost along the way. You can do this in the prewriting stage by creating an outline or synopsis of your story. Don't worry, this doesn’t have to be too long or detailed; even a few brief sentences that capture the essence of what you want to convey in your novel will get you on the right track.

Step two: Know your audience and your voice

Once you have the basic outline of your story, the next step in the prewriting process is to consider who you are writing for and who will be telling your story. First, you must consider your audience. Your audience is going to play a huge role in dictating your writing style, the type of language used, and the length of your book; a book aimed at teens is going to be significantly different than a book for adults. At this point of the prewriting process, you also need to consider the point of view from which you intend to write. That is, are you going to write in first person, second person, third person, or an alternating point of view? Are you going to focus on telling the story through one character or multiple characters? If you are unsure about which point of view you'd like to write from, try writing a paragraph or two in the different voices to see which feels best to you. You won't be able to do any writing if you haven't found your voice, so don’t skip over this important step in the prewriting process.

Step three: Get specific

Some authors don't like to get too detailed in the prewriting stage, and if you are one of them, that is okay. There is no right or wrong way to do this. If you'd like to be a little more detailed in your prewriting, you can do some exercises such as plot mapping or character sketches. You may want to spend some time creating the world in which your characters live. The prewriting stage is also where you should do any necessary research. If you are going to set your story in ancient Alexandria, you'll want to have your facts straight and details correct about this time period, lest your novel be accused of lacking authenticity.

A final thing to keep in mind about prewriting is that while it tends to happen before you begin writing, it can occur at any point throughout the writing process. If you are smack in the middle of your story and find yourself stuck, stop and go back to prewriting—work on your outline or try changing the point of view. This pre-planning will not only help keep you on track, but it can also help you find your way if you are lost. If you have some of your book completed, but could use some help going forward, request a book critique from the editors at

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