On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I had a student who was struggling. His essays were a mish-mash of words and phrases, with hidden kernels of some good ideas that were lost in the chaos. There was no sense of organization, no flow of ideas, nothing made sense. Then one day, after weeks of struggle, he brought in an essay that was miles beyond what he had done before--so much so that I thought perhaps it had been plagiarized, until I examined it closely and saw his obvious style within.

Okay, it was his own work. So why was it suddenly so much better? I pulled him aside in class.

"This essay is so much better than your others. What did you do differently?"

He looked a little sheepish. "I did the prewriting," he explained.

Prewriting. That critical step to good writing. Suddenly, I felt vindicated as both a writer and a teacher.

What is prewriting? It is simply all the work a writer must do before he or she does the actual writing of a piece. Prewriting involves collecting your ideas and maybe researching support. It involves organizing those thoughts and facts, arranging and rearranging them like puzzle pieces to create a clear, flowing outline. Only when you have a well-assembled skeleton can you begin to flesh it out and write the finished piece.

Writing is indeed a process, and if that process is followed, a student can't help but write a coherent essay. The trouble is, too many people think that writing is something that comes easy, and that brilliance can come from simply dashing down thoughts. After all, how hard can it be? You think the words and they come out the end of your pen or on your computer screen.

It is hard. It's enormously difficult to get our thoughts on paper so that they communicate clearly. Prewriting allows a writer to collect information and arrange it in the most effective way, to look at his or her ideas and decide if more or less is needed for maximum impact. It is a crucial step to good writing.