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Generate Ideas with These 9 Prewriting Strategies

Before starting the first draft, a writer should prepare by prewriting. What is one prewriting strategy that will help generate ideas for the first draft?

October is known in some writing circles as “Preptober” as it leads into National Novel Writing Month. Whether you’re looking to set up a long-form piece like a novel, or something as straightforward as a 500-word thinkpiece, a little bit of prewriting goes a long way to writing the best draft possible. These nine professionals shared some of the best techniques when it comes to prewriting that you can work into any creative or professional written project that will set you up for success.

  • Build a Latticework of Associations

  • Invest in the Power of Research

  • Freewrite for 5 to 10 Minutes, Then Loop Back

  • Model a Target Persona

  • Prepare to Write Like a Chef Prepares to Cook

  • Follow the 5 Ws and 1 H Strategy

  • Avoid Unnecessary Drafts With an Outline

  • Brainstorm With a Coworker or Two

  • Slim Down Broad Topics With Lists and Bullet Points

Build a Latticework of Associations

Prewriting strategies offer writers a way to generate ideas and content for the first draft. One strategy is to brainstorm a list of ideas, inspirations, and topics. This can include a log of ideas from a specific genre, topic, or style. Writers can also write down any memories, thoughts, or emotions that can help inspire content. The key here is to build a set of associations that will begin to form a latticework or scaffolding for the first draft.

Once you have these, you can do the more logical work of figuring out what makes sense to talk about first given what you can assume your readers would be most and least familiar with. By doing this prep work before you write, you can spend more time crafting a first draft that will incorporate your research and inspirations. Doing so ensures that your draft will be more cohesive and feel less disjointed or confusing.

Invest in the Power of Research

Researching is one of the best and most important prewriting techniques that’s mostly used to write blogs or articles for websites. A writer who has to write about a topic searches for relevant information about that topic in order to gather authentic ideas that address the topic.

After finding suitable information, the writer reviews everything carefully and develops their understanding of the topic so that they can write the best article or blog. After that, the writer can begin writing with the help of information acquired through research. This helps any writer to draft an authentic and well-organized piece of writing which is full of information and facts.

Gerrid Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, Joy Organics

Freewrite for 5 to 10 Minutes, Then Loop Back

Though you might have a general topic, you may not have an angle, and this is why using the freewriting technique of looping is a great way to generate ideas. Outlines can be useful, but they often box us in, keeping us from seeing possibilities or different approaches that could improve your overall content and flow.

By freewriting for five to ten minutes, in which you start with no particular take, you can circle or loop back and see possibilities that may elude you in a strict outline. Angles that you find interesting or unique will be more readily discoverable and allow you to create a draft. By utilizing a freewriting and looping technique, you can loosen your approach, and create a prewriting strategy that will produce better ideas and content.

Adelle Archer, CEO & Co-Founder, Eterneva

Model a Target Persona

Create a target persona for which the first draft is designed to appeal to. Identifying the intent of a writing piece is the first step towards drafting. Once intent has been identified, the prewriting strategy of mapping out a target persona can begin. This means understanding the audience for which the piece is meant to appeal to. The persona modeled in the mind of the writer will determine the content and lay a foundation for specific rhetorical appeals. Identifying a target persona also helps a writer generate ideas for their first draft.

Liza Kirsh, Chief Marketing Officer, DYMAPAK

Prepare to Write Like a Chef Prepares to Cook

Prewriting is one of the best things anyone can do to make sure that they can write quickly and effectively without needing to take too many breaks. Writers should think of prewriting the same way that chefs think of preparing ingredients before cooking. A great chef will dice the ingredients and put them in a specific order called "mise en place".

Writers can set up their own mise en place by organizing their notes and building a plan for their writing, so they know exactly how to begin. This process will also uncover any gaps in the required knowledge, so writers can properly prepare and research. After building a plan—which can be an outline or a list of topics to cover—and finishing up research, they should be able to write without too many interruptions. Finishing an article, novel, or essay is much easier than you thought possible, and it all starts with putting everything into its proper place.

Follow the 5 Ws and 1 H Strategy

Make sure your first draft answers all the hard-hitting questions by first asking the right questions during prewrite. That’s where the 5 Ws and 1 H strategy comes in. The 5 Ws include “Who”, “What”, “Where”, “When” and “Why”, while H is “How”. These questions approach the problem or premise from all angles and cover all your bases. These questions are the fuel to any brainstorming sessions and help organize your thoughts.

Avoid Unnecessary Drafts With an Outline

Make an outline. Before beginning your first draft, it’s important to know where you’re going. Sometimes it might feel like a tedious task, but this outline will serve as your True North as you plow forward into draft after draft. In the end, the old adage is true that writing is rewriting, but you’ll have less rewriting to do when you invest the time into outlining the narrative beforehand.

Jeff Goodwin, Senior Director, Performance, Orgain

Brainstorm With a Coworker or Two

If you want to break out of the confines of your usual patterns of writing and ideating, it can help to brainstorm with a coworker or two. Make sure you choose people whose ideas you trust and whom you work well with. Their input can lead you down new roads to generate excellent ideas for your first draft. Once you have some ideas on the table, you can take over and begin to refine them even further.

Slim Down Broad Topics With Lists and Bullet Points

One prewriting tool that can generate solid ideas is listing. By establishing a few broad ideas and then expanding on those ideas with a list of bullet points for further detail, listing is a technique for producing a lot of information quickly and efficiently. If you need to slim down a very broad starting topic, listing might be quite helpful narrowing it down to the main details. Write down every word that might come to mind as it relates to the overall subject you are working on.

If you’re operating as a team, this process still works extremely well. Ideas can be generated by the entire team, with one person serving as scribe. Don’t stress about editing or eliminating ideas that might not be sound. Just jot down as many options as possible. Once finished, sort the items you've listed into groups based on the combinations that make sense to you. Label each group with a name. You now have a more focused topic with potential development points. Describe the title you’ve given the collection of ideas in a sentence. There’s your thesis statement or leading topic sentence.

Raviraj Hegde, Head of Growth, Donorbox


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