Writing Tips for Teens #2: Your Writer’s Notebook and Prewriting
September 1, 2020
I’m posting Writing Tips for Teens on the first Tuesday of each month to help teens, librarians, and educators in this COVID-19 period of home and hybrid learning. I hope it’ll give you some resources and maybe even some writing fun. Please feel free to share with other teens, libraries, and classrooms! (I’d appreciate your using my name in any acknowledgements, thanks.) If you want a hashtag, I’m using #writingtipsforteens.
A writer’s notebook is a great place to gather and store ideas that you’ll use later. It can also serve as a reference for you to look at later as you plan out your writing future. This writer’s notebook can be a physical notebook, a bunch of papers in a folder, a folder on your laptop or phone—whatever works for you. Here are some ideas of what to add to it:
Descriptions: describe what is near you, or describe a person you know. Get as many details as you can, using as many senses as you can. This can be done indoors or outdoors.
Sketches: Sketch something near you, or if you’re doing research or brainstorming for a writing piece, sketch about that. Add notes or labels if helpful.
Notes: Write notes about a character, plot, or other idea for your writing. For example, for a character write down her name, physical description, details about her family, her personality, likes, dislikes, etc. Or write a short scene of something important that happened to your character.
Paragraphs or poetry: If you have an idea for a short writing piece, go for it! It might be a short poem, an essay, a short story, etc.
Lists: Write lists of things you want to write about later. Some examples: important times in your life, topics for poems or stories, places you want to describe.
Research notes: If your writing involves another time in history, a special job a character has, etc., you might need to do research. Take notes and be sure to include the source (website or book, etc.) in case you need to go back and find it later.
Writing Exercises: Try doing writing exercises when you want to warm up or can’t think of something to write about. Here are a couple examples:
Word shaking: Look at a picture or the room, etc. where you are. Brainstorm a list of words of what you see and include some adjectives to describe colors, shapes, etc. Then choose at least 5 words to create a poem or paragraph.
Take a common fairy tale or kids’ story and tell the story from different points of view. For example, tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears from her point of view, then Baby Bear’s point of view.
Journal: Keep a journal when you go on a trip or start a new school, etc. (Note: Sometimes journals can bring out strong feelings or issues. Don’t be shy about talking to a school counselor, your family doctor, etc. if you need help from an expert.)
Collect: Save pictures, library book receipts, website URLs, names of good books and authors, anything you want to save as a reader and writer.
Goals: Write down your writing goals for the week, month, year. Try breaking down big ones into little steps (ie. “I will write 500 words a day five days a week.” to help you with “I will write a novel this year.”).
Opportunities: Keep a list of writing contests, events and workshops. Many are now online. Save the URL or website so you can find it later.
As you may know, we often teach the writing process in steps. There are different terms for these steps depending on who you talk to, but these are the ones I’ll use: Prewrite, Write, Respond, Revise, Edit, and Publish. The Prewrite step is thinking about your topic and planning before you write your first draft. Many of the items in your writer’s notebook can be part of your prewriting. As I mentioned last month, your planning may look different than another writer’s, based on your writing style. But I do recommend some kind of prewriting to help you find and flesh out your ideas.
When you have an idea or a writing prompt, give yourself a little time to think about it. Then brainstorm—write down a web or cluster, a list, a quick paragraph, whatever fits the situation. You might want to set it aside and add more details to it before you move on. When you’re ready, start planning your organization by labeling or adding to your prewrite notes. What will grab your reader at the start? What comes at the beginning, middle, and end? For many writers, the more you do up front, the easier it will be to write the first draft.
Please comment if you have any questions. Take care. See you next month.