Monday, February 17, 2014


by Guest Blogger Amy Brecount White

My writing career has spanned fiction, feature, and essay writing, and I’ve also taught all of the above.  One point that I find myself emphasizing more and more is the importance of prewriting. 

Too many of us start writing before we’re truly ready, before our mind has had a chance to explore and order.  (That’s not to discourage free writing as brainstorming if that’s your modus operandi.  Write away, but don’t think that you’re close to being finished if you’re following the stream of your consciousness.)  Excellent writing – the kind that moves the mind of your reader – requires a great deal of prewriting, which can happen both on and off the paper or screen. 

Here are the top three points I try to reinforce with my students:

1) Read the question.  Reread the question.  When you think you’re done, reread the question.  I can’t tell you how many college essays I got this season that didn’t directly answer the question or only answered it partially.  It’s vital to understand what you’re being asked to do before undertaking it.  Often, mapping out the parts of the question can also help to clarify and organize your response.  It makes the writing easier.

2) Do thorough research and get good evidence.  Whether you’re writing an essay about that pivotal moment in your life or penning a research paper on the Middle East, you need to convince your reader you know what you’re talking about.  To show your reader the importance of that pivotal moment, you’ll need to remember specifics and include the sensory details from that moment and also reflect on that moment’s ultimate importance to you.  That takes time.  To convince your reader that you know all about Afghan tribal history, you need to put in your time on a computer or at the library.  No one will believe anything you say unless you give him or her good evidence.  We’re all skeptical these days and need to be convinced with solid, believable evidence.

3) Give your brain time to work.  My best ideas for metaphors or characters frequently come during my down time, such as when I’m changing a load of laundry or walking the dog.  (Thank goodness for the Notes function on my phone!)  Your brain needs time to let new ideas and challenges percolate through all your experiences and connections.  I try to assign my brain a task – i.e. think about what my supporting character Gina really wants – and then let my subconscious go to work.  The problem simmers in the background for a while and then, when the solution’s cooked, pops into my consciousness.  Too many writers try to compose at their computer without giving their brain enough time to mull over an idea or a conflict and understand it fully in all its complexity.  If you don’t fully understand your answer or your character, how can you expect your reader to do so?

Notice anything?  Everything I’ve mentioned is a prewriting activity.  Of course, there’s a back and forth between writing and prewriting, and the boundaries can be blurred.  But, I’ve definitely found, the more effort you put into preparing to write anything, the better understood your final words will be.  You will connect with your reader on a deeper level, which is, after all, the goal of most writers.

Happy writing!

Guest Blogger Amy Brecount White is the owner of Expert Essay Coaching, a essay tutoring business that specializes in coaching seniors on their college essays.  She’s also the author of Forget-Her-Nots (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2010).  Over 80 of her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, and she now writes regularly for Arlington magazine. or

No comments:

Post a Comment