Develop a writing routine

Free Prewriting Worksheet: The 5 Keys to Unlock Prewriting

Why Keys?

When I taught Writing  at a local private school, here in Moncton, I had to use some clever tricks to keep my students from jumping straight to Drafting. Remember the elephant story? They were trying to eat the whole stinkin’ elephant in one bite, and you and I know that doesn’t work out well for anyone.

After jumping up and down and saying NO NO NO one too many times, I finally decided that it wasn’t working. Using the Writing Process is really an important part of pain-free and effective writing, so I couldn’t give up. I needed to change my tactics to make it stick.

I did what every teacher does when they need to get an important thing across to their students: I went to a local craft supplies store.

I got a package of binder rings, stiff construction paper and lots of markers, and made a Prewriting Key Chain for each of my students.

I cut out 5 key shapes from the construction paper for each student and wrote the following 5 steps on them. I then told my students that they had to get all of  the 5 keys in order to open the door to Drafting. Until they had all of their keys, they were LOCKED OUT.

It worked really well! I drew a different cartoon door on our white board every day with 5 elaborate looking locks. From then on, my kids always remembered to get their keys for each step before they tried to come up and open the door to the next step and start Drafting their project. Success!

Now, you are all grown-ups with your own keychains filled with keys for all kinds of different doors and responsibilities.

You don’t need another keychain to carry around, and I can’t actually hand out little cut-out keys for you to put on your project keychain, so I will give you the steps.

AND I will give you a great checklist that you can print out and place on the wall in your writing space. You can make yourself a keychain, if you like, but I think the beautiful checklist will work very nicely…and you won’t leave the house with it in your hand, thinking it’ll start your car.

Here are the 5 Keys – Make sure you gather them all for each and every writing project you do:

1. Audience

If you are writing an article for a technical journal, your audience will expect different kinds of content, language and information than if you are writing a blog post for clients you could help in the future, who don’t have that technical jargon or experience.

If you write to the wrong audience, the people you want to reach will *click* leave you in the dust.

So you have to decide NOW who you are talking to, and then do some research about what they want to hear from you.

You have to know your audience in order to really talk to them, and when I say “know” them, I mean really know them. You have to imagine one specific person who exemplifies your ideal reader, and ask yourself (or them) about all kinds of things: their favourite hobbies, hopes, dreams, fears, even their favourite TV shows.

2. Purpose

I hear this all the time: “I want to make sure that I say…” or “I have to tell them…”

No you don’t. Stop it.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Let me make this clear right away because it is *super* important: YOUR PURPOSE AS A WRITER IS  NOT TO SAY THINGS!” quote=”Let me make this clear right away because it is *super* important: YOUR PURPOSE AS A WRITER IS  NOT TO SAY THINGS!”]

Your purpose is to affect someone. You want your reader to think, feel, or do something because of what you say. Take yourself outside of what you know or what you want to say, and think about how your reader should feel.

Decide one specific thing that you want to happen as a result of your reader taking the time to read your piece, and do everything with the intent to make that happen.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Your Purpose as a writer is NOT to say something; it’s to affect someone, on purpose” quote=”Your Purpose as a writer is NOT to say something; it’s to affect someone, on purpose”]

People come to the internet for 1 of 3 things: Information, Entertainment or Inspiration.

Use one of those things to fulfill your purpose. Do it on purpose.

3. A Great Idea

We need topics to write about, and we need them to be good, right? Obviously. But how do we make sure our topics are good and will affect our readers in the way we want them to? PLAN! (of course)

Start out by reading this post on Quarterly planning, and follow the steps to fill in the template I provided there. This will make certain that you are writing about timely and important messages, and it will give you a starting point for your Topic brainstorm.

The key here is to let every single idea pour out onto the page. Never say no to yourself here, and expand on even the silliest of ideas, because the best ideas often come from the worst.

4. Organized, Categorized Outline

This is the map that you will follow during drafting, to make sure that you cover all of the important points and in the right order.

It will keep you from drifting off and talking about irrelevant things, and it will make sure that you cover your points in a rational and organized way.

It will also take that painful fear away from Drafting – the white, blank page! You will know what to do and when to do it, so all that you have to do with that page is expand on the points you have written down, in lovely sentences.

BUT HOW? Just start simply:

– Make 3 good points about your topic, then make 3 good sub-points about each point.

– Organize that crap so it makes sense! Decide on a logical order to put your points in so that your audience can follow along and grasp the important bits. Pay attention to the organization of others’ writing too – you will begin to notice the most effective ways to organize your thoughts.

5. Words, Baby!

You are ready for the last Prewriting step! It’s time to do some exercises to make sure your vocabulary around the topic you are writing about is warmed up and ready so you don’t waste time staring at the screen and waiting for the right word to show up.

This step gets skipped sometimes, but you really should do it. Seriously!

It’s simple and can take 30 seconds, but it will rev up your linguistic brain and make the words flow more comfortably and genuinely when you do sit down to Draft your project – without the awkward blips that can happen when you use a thesaurus on the spot.

– Write the important words in the Topic, Points and Sub-points on a page. You just started a Word Bank!

– Read about your topic. Find even one magazine article about it and highlight a handful of words you like. Add ’em to the Bank!

– Talk about the topic out loud. The words that come to mind in this natural way will feel natural to the reader as well.

– Come up with a few metaphors. Don’t use more than one in the post, but thinking of different ways to describe an idea will open your mind to new language to use.

– Hit a thesaurus…don’t actually hit it. Open it. Then, use it: go on the thesaurus bunny trail and find the most delicious and comfortable words about your topic. Write those in your Bank too, but make sure that you know how to use each word in a sentence; it is pretty awful when a thesaurus-word gets used incorrectly.

Having these words in your mind will make writing the actual Draft feel so much more free and the words will flood out happily to describe your points, instead of trickling grumpily.

There you go! That’s it for today. Click to download the Checklist, print it and then put it above your workspace. Make sure you follow it with each writing project you work on, and gather your Prewriting Keys before you try to unlock the door to Drafting.

Comment below with a great brainstorming tactic you use, and don’t forget to click Share, Like or Tweet to share this advice with your friends who could use it.


Kris Windley

Kris is a writer, editor, illustrator, teacher, mother of two amazing young ladies - and enthusiastic cat-belly snuggler. A certified teacher, long-time blogger and experienced brand consultant, she writes about Writing, Business and Blogging...and sometimes about Changing the World.

Kris Windley

Kris is a writer, editor, illustrator, teacher, mother of two amazing young ladies - and enthusiastic cat-belly snuggler. A certified teacher, long-time blogger and experienced brand consultant, she writes about Writing, Business and Blogging...and sometimes about Changing the World.

You mad? Excited? Have a perspective to share? Please do!


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  4. Annette on August 6, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Hi Kris,
    I love all your great tips they make so much sense to me. I have consistently committed to the Free Writing process for 3 weeks and have babbled on to myself on every topic from friendship to radishes(long story regarding radishes). What I have learned with this unstructured approach is to write with my feelings rather than ‘how i think something should be written’. Not sure if that makes sense but it seems to work for me. Now ready to move to the next phase of taking a more structured approach to writing…. just baby steps !!!
    Thank you for all your wonderful posts they keep me inspired and moving towards my somewhat ‘mirage goal’ of writing a book.

    • KrisWithaK on August 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      Annette – I love this! I’m so glad you have stuck with it; consistency is really the key to getting the most out of your Writing Practice AND that idea about writing what you think you are supposed to write? That’s a creativity killer for sure. I’m super pumped that you’ve been able to find your writing confidence and you’re trusting your own Voice 🙂 Awesome!

  5. […] Prewriting – this is where you figure out and plan ahead all of the important bits and pieces before […]

  6. […] but if you are writing with a purpose you can’t just sit down and GO without some effective Prewriting […]

  7. Marcie Norton on June 4, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for sharing your blog and helpful information. I am not good at writing, so I will be reviewing these 5 steps later, again and again to help me. I like how you make learning fun for your students.

    I am coming from the New Blogger group on Facebook enjoying the Blog tour. There really is too much to share from April. She is amazing. I enjoyed reading your blog because it is so conversational. Great job! If you want, you can check my blog out at We love to receive comments and shares about our decorative Baby and Wedding Time Capsules as well.

    I learned a lot from April about ways to help our business through our blog, so my husband was very understanding that I was watching Creative Live for several hours, to help us advance our lives and business.

    Best of Luck to you,

    Marcie Norton

    • KrisWithaK on June 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks Marcie! I’m glad you will be able to use this resource 🙂 April really was fantastic! I’m so glad to have become a part of this new group of writers, and I can’t wait to see how we all grow.

  8. Jennifer Kennedy on May 29, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Wow!! This is extremely helpful, Kris!! I’ve printed it out and will definitely use it for my upcoming blog posts! I struggle with writing and I feel a large part of it is due to the fact that I don’t do the pre-writing step. I also think I should follow a writing schedule, that will help build discipline and force me to be more consistent.

    Also, I love your teaching story!! I used to be an elementary teacher and I miss the creative lessons we used to do!! Your story brought back so many memories. Actually, my first group of first graders will not be graduating high school next week! Yikes! Time is flying.

    Thanks again.

    • KrisWithaK on May 29, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      I’m glad you feel like this resource will help you, Jennifer! I think planning is a huge part of any communication; think about your outline as though it’s the lesson plan for a great lesson you will teach during the Drafting step. Some of my lesson plans were 5 bullet-points written on a napkin, but there was always an intentional plan written somewhere before I walked into the class. Otherwise, MAN it was not a good experience for anyone.

      My first classes were in High School, so they’ve long since left school, but seeing them now and then – all adult and responsible – is still pretty shocking. I can’t imagine if they started out with me as tiny ones!

  9. Nela on May 28, 2014 at 4:25 am

    What a creative way to explain this concept to children! I wish I had a teacher like you back in the day 🙂
    Thank you for this super useful information, I’ll use it for sure.

    • KrisWithaK on May 28, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Thanks Nela! I swear, those students taught me more about communication than I ever taught them. This lesson: if you’re not getting your message across, repackage it 😉

  10. Lynne on May 28, 2014 at 3:53 am

    Very good ideas on writing before the draft, I really like how you were very creative with the children too! – I usually just jump in with the draft, having thought through what I want to say. I do a lot of preliminary reading though – the Internet is wonderful for information, but I choose wisely which bits to use for any writing I need to support.

    • KrisWithaK on May 28, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      I’m happy to hear that you do some thinking ahead of your draft, Lynne. Try making a quick, concrete outline next time you write something; it can take 30 seconds, and it can make an *enormous* difference to your final product. A great return on time investment 🙂

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