Prewriting constitutes everything you do before you start to “actually” write your novel, play, or memoir. It is a process of inspiration, exploration, story structuring, and character formation. It is an interplay between your right and left brain, a dance of questions you ask yourself and different paths you try out and discard until the story emerges in a strong and viable form. To indulge in yet another metaphor, prewriting is where you allow your work to gestate before being birthed onto the page. Once on that page, it will “grow” through various drafts. But the prewriting stage is every bit as important, or perhaps even more important than any of those drafts. Because it is there the work will take on its DNA, the core elements of story that will guide you through the demanding process ahead. Without those elements, when you encounter roadblocks along your drafting path, (and you will), randomness is likely to take over, or confusion, or the urge to just throw everything out and start over again. But if you have done your prewriting properly, the driving forces of character and story will hold firm through any challenge.
When I prewrite, I start with a notebook that is specifically designated for this stage. I ponder aspects of my story in an open-ended, unedited process I call filling the pages. I ask myself all sorts of “what if” questions, and allow whatever answers that come to flow onto the page. I write character bios and monologues and scraps of dialogue if I hear them. These are “musings” no one else but I will see, so I am free to explore in any direction I want. If I hit dead ends, no problem, I go off in another direction and see where that takes me. This is the place to do that. Better here than in draft #3!
Filling the notebook is one of the ways to open the floodgates to inspiration, to invite in the thoughts below the thoughts – the ones you didn’t even know you were thinking.