In the spirit of new beginnings, I’m going to be spending several weeks talking about some of the pre-writing processes you may find helpful as you get started on your 2015 writing projects. The more manuscripts that come across my desk, the more I’m reminded that being a competent writer does not necessarily make someone a competent storyteller: I’ve read plenty of projects in which decent writing and a good story idea or concept were undermined by significant plot and character problems. And while the surest teacher in these areas is time/experience, there are many exercises and strategies you can employ at the front end of the writing process that can improve your story structure and character development.
Because not every writer needs help in every area, and because each writer’s writing process is different, the first step in creating your pre-writing strategy is to evaluate what kind of writer you are and what pre-writing exercises will be the most helpful to you, personally. The goal of pre-writing is not to give you a dozen hoops to jump through or a list of ways to help you procrastinate, but to help you make the most efficient use of your writing time by identifying your successes and preemptively shoring up your weaknesses. If your high school experience was anything like mine, you remember the frustration of being required to turn in junk like an outline, research notes, and a rough draft before you could turn in your final draft, just to prove that you went through the “correct” process for turning out a solid paper. (Well, Mrs. Jennings, I wrote my paper first and then created all that other stuff, so there!)
Pre-writing doesn’t have to be like that; you’re an adult, and one of the perks is that you can pick and choose whatever dang pieces of the process YOU actually find helpful. So, to prepare for the next few weeks’ worth of posts, spend some time considering the following questions and forming a picture in your head of the kind of writer you are/what your process looks like, so that you can create a personalized pre-writing plan from the exercises and strategies I’ll be talking about.
- What are your strong points as a writer? What comes easily to you? Dialogue? Characters? Sub-plots? Settings?
- What are your weaknesses? Where do you get the most criticism? Where do you find yourself stalling/frustrated?
- How much content do you create at one time? I.e., do you write in scenes? Chapters? Do you set a word goal for yourself? A time limit?
- How often do you write? Daily? Weekly?
- Do you start your writing time by re-reading your latest content, or do you just jump right in?
- Do you write sequentially, or do you jump around in a story?
- Do you like to plan out your stories in advance, or just see where the characters take you?
- Do you develop your characters before writing, or do you discover them as you’re writing?
- Do you prefer to talk through story problems with another person, or figure them out on your own?
The better you know yourself and your processes, the more effective your pre-writing strategies will be and the more efficient your writing time.