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Everybody thinks his daughter’s pretty special and has cornered the market on smarts and creativity, but it’s actually true of my daughter. Really. She reads like no kid her age outside the Guinness Book of World Records and has a memory I really envy. Her ability to use context to understand the essential meanings of big words she has no real business knowing is dazzling. From time to time, she’ll go on little writing jags. After getting a kitty for Christmas, she decided to write a little story from the cat’s perspective, homing in on things like how funny it is to the cat that these strange people prepare a box for her to potty in and so on.

My wife volunteers once a week in my daughter’s second-grade class, and yesterday she texted me a photo of a page she had found hidden in my daughter’s desk. The page was from a journal we had given her on whose cover she has written dire warnings to keep out and drawn protective chains. So of course my wife looked.

The page in question was one of apparently many many pages of pre-writing for a story-in-progress including things like character sketches, plot summaries, important notes about relationships among the characters, and explanations of things key to the underlying mythology of the story (e.g. “sirens are like evil mermaids”). As a seven-year-old, she’s doing things she’s never been taught to do that I’m often not disciplined enough to do with my own writing as an adult who’s been exposed to such exercises.

I could go on all day about my daughter and the likelihood of her rise to fame in the belles lettres, but this blog is supposedly about providing tips, tricks, inspiration, and discussion to help the readers get to writing. So I’ll put to you a question: What kind of pre-writing do you do, if any, and how important is it to your process as a writer?

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  1. Very timely questions. Just this Wednesday, I published a post on “How to… Create and Use an Effective Outline” and plan on writing about “How to… Create and Use a Web,” two of my favorite pre-writing strategies. (Actually, outlines are my favorites but my youngest uses webs a lot, and I like them for that reason.) Think I might also write about “talking it out” as a strategy since this works so well for my oldest son. I also like making notes in my idea book or a list on Evernote. When I was an English teacher years ago, I stressed the importance of finding a pre-writing strategy that worked well for each individual, and I still believe in that today. Pre-writing is so important because it keeps me focused and helps me not feel overwhelmed. When I have my ideas already jotted down, I can then focus on one point at a time and not worry about forgetting the others. I use pre-writing for more than just writing too; I use it for creating lessons and studies and for talking to my husband and my kids. Like I said, very timely topic.

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  2. For years I have done most of my pre-writing in my head. Unlike your daughter, my memory is faulty, so unless I rework the idea and get it down quickly, I will forget it. The process definitely has advantages but I think the list of draw-backs is larger. I’ve started a separate private blog to draft now (to avoid the pit of the forgotten ideas), and that’s working out better. For me, the pre-writing is crucial, because my pieces don’t arrive like Athena, fully formed and perfect from an creator’s aching skull. They almost always take finessing and coaxing and bit of flirting. They’re often different on paper than they were in my head. Their is one idea I’ve been courting for years, and still no conquest. It’s part of the fun and part of the headache, and definitely necessary to the quality of the final piece.

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      1. Feels like mine borders delusions of grandeur sometimes, because when I get it on paper I think, “What? It was so much better in my head.” Drafting, the necessary drudgery of writing, eh? πŸ™‚ I don’t comment often, but I enjoy reading your posts.

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      2. I should have mentioned first and foremost, you are blessed with your daughter. What a wonderful discovery that hidden page was. Given all the unpleasant things parents can discover, you should be offering daily thanks to a higher power and plotting secret ways to encourage her. I most definitely envy you.

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    1. SAME! Im constantly writting ideas down when funny things happen to me, or when I get the urge to write something. I use my notes app on my iphone and I have a whole list of topics to write about.

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  3. I just started to use a web to create posts based on previous ones. If I can come up with five follow-up articles for my last 5 posts, thats more than a month of blogging all planned out.

    I schedule my ideas on a calendar so I don’t forget πŸ™‚

    That’s great about your daughter. I agree, she is a genius (and I’m a teacher, so I should know)!

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      1. The follow-up articles build on what you’ve already written and give your blog continuity.

        Plus, it usually brings your readers back (which is what we all want)! Thanks.

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  4. I never have done any pre writing so far! although i do a lot of pre thinking πŸ˜› but that never works out..i guess i will follow your amazingly brilliant daughter’s example henceforth!

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  5. Pre-writing takes some of the pressure of writing. It allows “playtime” which is paramount in being able to experiment with story elements as well as letting the writer become better acquainted with his/her characters.

    If you ever feel funny about pre-writing, visit Wikipedia’s site for the Harry Potter novels. The character info alone is encyclopedic…plus it’s fun to read!

    Time to go play!

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  6. I do a ton of rewriting in my head, on paper, and in digital files in addition to endless editing. That’s what I love about writing. We can say what we want – only better and better with each rewrite.

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  7. It seems like your daughter is growing to be a good writer one day! πŸ™‚

    Most of the time I did pre-writing but then I got stuck at the end. So I just write something when I am in the mood to write it, my classic problem. πŸ˜€

    Thanks anyway to share a story of your inspiring daughter. πŸ™‚

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  8. Honestly, most of my pre-writing (for one-shot short fiction) consists of procrastinating on writing the story. I’ll end up going over the scenario in my head a number of times when walking to and from the grocery store or plodding along on the crosstrainer or treadmill at the gym, and what sticks between iterations is what ends up being the constants the story is built around. I do end up developing a lot of background for my recurring settings, but I’m incredibly bad at structuring the information – mostly the world tends to grow and crystalize pretty organically around the writing as the writing breaks new grounds.

    The “proper blogging” I do is reviewing of Random Stuff (where I’ll generally call using/reading/consuming whatever I intend to review and maybe discussing it with my better half some good enough), and blogging my scrapbooking endeavors (so a large part of the blog post will just be a listing of materials used), and I’m admittedly not much given to rewriting non-fiction. The biggest background research task I took on was probably counting corpses in three seasons and change of NCIS, and even that was pretty low-key as background research is concerned, since I would’ve gladly rewatched those seasons for enjoyment anyway.

    I have the ABILITY to prewrite; I’ve written some pretty decent academic essays, for one, and I’ve worked SOME writing from outlines to not-horrible results. I just don’t enjoy doing so in a structured manner beyond a certain point, as it slows me down and if I lose enough momentum I’ll hit the “okay, I’ve worked through this and figured everything out, now I’m sick of it” station and it’s terribly hard to get the train of thought moving again once it’s stopped there.

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  9. I sometimes take days to write a single entry, even of it is a paragraph or two. I come up with the basis of what I want to write about and write an initial draft, then re-read and edit and add more over two or three days. Then I read it three times to make sure I am satisfied with it, and then I post it.

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  10. I jot down ideas and maybe a few dot points to set a structure if it is going to be a lengthier piece, but most of the actual “writing” gets mulled around in my head. I then just sit down and type straight from my thoughts. On completion I read through and make necessary adjustments. Works fine unless I get stopped in the middle. I find it hard to pick up and follow on in the same style or mood if I have been interrupted.

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  11. When I blog it’s usually spur of the moment and when I can get 10 – 20 minutes of uninterrupted time. So when I finish my post, I read through at least twice before publishing and that’s it. I do have a notebook I keep ideas in for future posts but so far haven’t used them. I don’t post everyday though.

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  12. I do little in the way of pre-writing. I spend some time imagining, and when I think I’m onto something, I start writing. I tend to let my characters grow up organically.

    I have biographies for all of my characters–and quite detailed, too–but all of them were developed AFTER I had already written my first book and parts of the two sequels.

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  13. Since I blog on WordPress, I have lots of drafts I’ve used to capture a thought I want to expand upon. I revisit them either as I feel the muse or when I’m at a loss for something to share. Sometimes I can’t remember why I started writing something, so my challenge is to become careful and disciplined enough to leave an intelligible trace of my thought process in each draft.

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  14. Holy cow, your kid IS awesome! πŸ˜€ At her age, I was just copying with my toys whatever I saw on TV! XD

    I think I *need* to do more pre-writing. I know I *need* to get rid of all the pre-written stuff, and perhaps start over from the beginning…but it’s so, so hard!

    There’s no doubt that your daughter’s going to go on to great things! I look forward to reading her work in a decade or so! (Probably a little over a decade..?)

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  15. I’m not quite sure what the term “web’ (below) refers to, but I’m guessing it may refer to something like mind-mapping in any of its myriad formats. I’ve used this for many years. I’ve also taught a Journal Quilt class for a number of years (Google the term.) We start with mind-mapping…

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  16. hi! I do not know very well English. but I think that being a writer is a vocation, a necessity. only if you have these characteristics, the message that we want to communicate to the minds of those who act

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  17. Oh, how I miss the joie-de-vivre, single-mindedness, and smarts I had in second grade! My boundless curiosity drove my parents to make a gift of Arcady Leokum’s “Tell Me Why”. More than 40 years later I still treasure that copy with its back cover replaced by the cardboard from my father’s laundered shirts… These days, I use many pre-writing strategies that no one admits to anymore: evasion, procrastination, exercise, feigned interest in all things domestic, blogging, Morning Pages, freewriting with students, freewriting without students, making and breaking writing dates, preoccupation with other people’s writing projects and production capacity and good old fashioned gin. Okay, so I was kidding about the gin. But I take it all as part and parcel of the larger nesting-preparation-cover-me-i’m-going-in dance before I saddle up and ride into the headwinds of fear that await all who dare. Keep following your daughter’s lead. She’ll take you places our generations have never even dreamt!

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    1. Nope I engage in all of those pre-writing actives including the gin. (Okay but that’s only on weekends, including Thursdays, and with friends. )

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  18. P.S. I also keep lists of titles to write, titles to read, movies to see, music to get, use Evernote, swim, drink no coffee, soda or tea, and send thanks to God every waking hour at 22 minutes past.

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  19. Your daughter sounds incredible. She’s done more pre-writing for a book than I have. I have all these ideas in my mind for 3 books, but have only jotted down a few notes for each one. I just haven’t taken the time to fully write out my ideas, characters, plot lines, etc. I really should take the time to write out my ideas as they come to me before something else pushes them out of my mind. Writing for work (continuing medical education) takes priority over personal writing, and when I have time for personal writing it usually is for my blog. Thanks for the inspiration to put my ideas on to paper.

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  20. pre-writing is a very important part of my process. I usually outline an entire book before I write and draw up my characters in fairly exact detail. The book never exactly follows the outline but is more like a rough sketch I feel free to change at any point of inspiration.

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  21. Even in writing my blog posts, I have to pre-write. It helps to physically write out my posts, as I will find grammatical errors more easily. If I come across ideas during the day, I have to stop and write them down. (I have ADD so at times it will be hard to focus.)

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  22. We just can’t help but think of our kids and grandkids as special and so much smarter than the average kid! And I’ll listen to your “goings on” about yours if you will listen to me about mine! Don’t you just love them to pieces!
    Now, seriously…Your daughter seems to have some great thoughts when it comes to this “Writing” thing…Do you think maybe she got it from you?…I think mine got some of my talents…~mkg

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  23. I don’t know, I was that kid and years of creative writing classes kind of killed it for me. Now I have great difficulty Pre-writing: even though I know 110% I cannot make anything coherent without at least an outline.

    Sometimes I have more luck with story boards but I think sometimes we over-think things. I can’t remember who said it but I remember someone once said/wrote that dissecting a poem is like tying to to a chair and flogging it to death. Sometimes I think creative writing programs are like that with creativity and the will to write.

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