Teach Write: Five Tasks to Complete BEFORE You Start Writing

May 25, 2020

Welcome to Teach Write! This column draws on my 20 years’ experience teaching writing to kids, university students, and adult learners. It includes ideas and exercises that teachers and students can use in the classroom, and creative writers can use to level up their process.

For the last few months, we’ve been talking about the first two things we must do before we sit down to write:

  • Identify our audience
    • Who are we writing for? Kids, adults, professional peers, our teachers?
    • What does that audience need from our work?
  • Identify our purpose
    • What is our goal as a writer? To entertain, inform, persuade?
    • What is the goal of the type of document we’re writing? To make an argument, to present scientific results, to evoke emotion?

These tasks fall under the “preparation” phase of writing. In the three-step writing process, preparation is the first 40%…. meaning the first 40% of the total amount of time and effort that we put towards a particular piece. Click here to access posts that dig into these topics in more detail.

Perhaps, at this point, you’re thinking that we’re about to get on with the actual writing now.

Hahaha – no. Stow that misplaced enthusiasm and put down your pens.*

Nope, my friends, there are still several things that we really need to do before we are ready to begin with the making of the words:

  • get an idea
  • do the research
  • outline

Granted, not all of these will apply to every project. If you’re a student, a freelancer, or a children’s writer doing work-for-hire projects, the idea might have been handed to you. In which case, all you have to do is brainstorm to flesh it out. Likewise, not every project requires research… but a lot more projects need it than you might think.**

The hill I will die on, though? The outline. Unless you’re a poet, outlines are not negotiable. And even then, I’m willing to bet they help. 😉

One of the most common questions any professional writer is asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” Likewise, one of the most common stumbling blocks for student writers is… not having any ideas and thus having no idea what to write about. A particularly distressing circumstance which leads to procrastination and last-minute panic. I’ll share my ideas for getting ideas in the coming weeks. For now, I’m curious to hear from all of you:

Where do you get YOUR ideas?

How do you decide what to write about if you’re not interested in – or hate – an assigned topic?

If you have a LOT of ideas, how do you choose?

All tips and tricks are welcome!

*or pencils, or computers, or crayons, I don’t judge. Unless you’re writing into your phone, in which case, stop that, it’s just too weird.

**TL/DR – unless you’re writing purely from your own experience, you’re probably going to have to look something up.

Hey, did you know I teach writing workshops? It’s true – I work with adult writers, teachers, and students of all ages. Contact me to learn more.

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