Prewriting Benefits and a Warning

Published: 24th July 2008
Views: N/A

By Katherine Ploeger, M.A., M.F.A.

Prewriting is one of the most important stages of the writing process, in addition to revision. Unfortunately, most beginning (and some advanced) writers don't spend enough time on these activities, so writing is more difficult that it needs to be.

Prewriting involves all the activities needed to prepare for the first draft, starting with that first flash of an idea, all the way to a complete outline. The prewriting process (at least as I have experienced it) has several steps, each with techniques that make the step easier to get through.

So why not just start typing after that first flash of the idea?

Only in the movies does a writer do that. Remember Chevy Chase in Funny Farm (1988)? He thought he had a great idea for a novel. He sat down at the typewriter, typed "Chapter 1" and stared at the typewriter, at a loss for what to write next. He hadn't done his prewriting. He finally produced (in my view, based on the thickness of the manuscript) a paltry attempt at a novel, more of a novella than anything else. Chase's character eventually gave up on the novel and became a sports writer.

I wonder, as a writer and teacher, whether he gave up because he didn't understand the process of writing, or whether he simply wasn't cut out to be a novelist. He seemed happy with the sports writing, so the movie did have a happy ending.


Prewriting is a vital part of the writing process and offer several benefits to the writer:

1. Prewriting can be a lot of fun. Anything is possible at this point. You have your wonderful book idea, still fuzzy and vague but with great possibilities. Your ideas can be freewheeling, even idiotic. It doesn't matter. Just keep brainstorming, playing with ideas, collecting resources and notes, doing all the other activities needed to finish this stage of the writing process.

The only restriction at this point (unless you place more on yourself) is your need or requirement to stick close to the original vision for the book. But even that restriction is false. Your original idea will rarely match the finished product. I know that's hard to read, but that's been my experience. Of course, my books are often better, usually more complicated, than the original idea. The vagueness of the vision allows you to begin work on the idea, so you can create the book you are intended to write.

Detours and weird ideas can often lead to flashes of brilliance for your book, whether with the content, organization, or whatever. At this point, your book can go in many directions. Explore them all until you hit upon the one that feels right. "Ah, ha! That's what I'm going to write."

2. During prewriting, you can work out the true purpose of the book, playing with alternatives until you find the one that's right for you and the reader. What benefits are you looking for as the writer? What benefits are you hoping to give the reader? Make sure your book addresses these purposes.

3. You get to find out more about your readers (a.k.a. target market, audience). This exploration is part of your research about your competition. You probably know a lot about them because you were one of them, having been a beginner once yourself. Or you might be aiming at a different audience, in which case you've got some work to do.

In your exploration of your readers, you can play around with additional audiences you might want to address. You might want to write for different age groups, education levels, or levels of proficiency with your topic. Brainstorm all the possibilities for all these variables. You might find that one or two of the alternatives present other book projects you can tackle, once this first book is done. Heck, create an entire industry out of your book idea, aiming each book at a different audience.

4. You get to plan the book to best meet your readers' needs. You get to play around with different organizational strategies for the entire book and for each chapter. You get to think about different features for the chapters. You can even play around with the cover design if you're self-publishing.

5. You get to do preliminary research, as much as you need to finish the first draft, or at least as much as you think you need at this point.

If you are passionate about your topic (that's most important), then doing more reading on the topic should be sheer delight. Remember that eventually you have to write your own book, so don't get lost in the research.

Give yourself a time limit for the research process. After that time, add questions to your Research Questions List, to be done during revision.

6. You can easily evaluate new ideas that come flooding into your mind (and they will). Does the idea fit your present vision of the book? If used, would this new idea drastically change the book? Is that change good or bad? If good, then where does the idea fit into your present outline or vision of the book? If bad, toss it.

7. By the end of the process, you'll have a full outline of the book (that is, if you follow my process, addressed in WRITE THAT BOOK! The Prewriting Process available at

With that outline, you'll be able to see the whole project at a glance. Spread the outline across your desk and examine your creation. You'll be able to detect:

* inadequate organization of the ideas,

* gaps in ideas and content,

* whether you have one book or two (or more),

* whether a chapter will become a monster, which needs to be cut down to size before you begin drafting.

8. Prewriting allows you to write the first draft more easily because you know what you want to write at each writing session.

9. Prewriting increases your confidence in yourself as a writer and about your book idea. You'll be able to determine if the project has merit, and if you'll be able to finish the project and actually write that book!


The one warning about prewriting is that you can become so fascinated by this stage (it really is fun), that you don't actually move past it to create the first draft, and then on to (oh, no!) revision. Like research, writers have a tendency to spend too much time planning and never get to implementation (drafting).

Allow about 25% of the project's entire schedule for prewriting. If you have extensive research to do (which you shouldn't, at least not for a first or early book in your writing career), then allow more time, say 30-35% of the time. But then move on and write the first draft.

Prewriting is a crucial stage of writing any nonfiction work. It allows the writer to be prepared, rather than stumbling around in the dark, wondering what to write next.

Do your prewriting. And then WRITE THAT BOOK!

* * *
Katherine Ploeger

Video Source: Youtube

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore