Your first prewriting exercise is "looping." Looping gets its name from the shape of the activity. But before we loop, what do we mean by "prewriting," and why even bother doing it?

Since prewriting takes time, busy students surely need a good reason for doing it. Some may think, "This isnít part of my grade, since I donít need to prewrite before I sit at my word-processor and zip out an assignment." For short assignments this thinking may work, but for longer papers we need to have a plan or things may not go well once we begin the project, or at the point when we receive a grade on it. Having some sort of plan is important, and in the long run probably saves the average student valuable time in not having to redo a paper when it becomes clear that as is, the paper is woefully weak.

There are many different forms of prewriting, and they include doodling down ideas, making more formal lists of ideas, writing very rough "get-going" drafts, outlining the structure of the work, etc. Prewriting can generate ideas to find a subject to write on; it can generate explanation or description that you may use in the final work; it may serve to identify what you do and do not know about a subject youíve been asked to write on.

For the LA assignment, try looping. The activity consists of quick, short writingĖ"freewriting"-- on an idea for a limited amount of timeĖone minute up to 5 minutes. After youíve quickly gotten down some initial writing, you then re-read and reflect on what youíve just done. Select an idea from that, and begin writing about it for a limited amount of time. The shape of the activity looks like this:


Two things to remember about looping:

* use it whenever you need to generate ideas, or flesh in an idea you have

* use it to break writerís block: freewrite without concern for "correctness"

Writing generated when looping may not make it into your first draft, as you may end up deleting it because you have hit upon an even better idea. Because itís written quickly, we can call it "cheap" in the sense that it didnít cost you much time. But looping can generate lots of ideas. However, you may find that some of the writing you created when looping is solid enough to use in a draft. Bravo!

Looping busts writerís block. It does so by forbidding you to not write. And, looping doesnít require that you pay attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. So, when you begin, begin. If you have nothing to write, write that down: "I have nothing to write. My mind is blank. I hate writing in class anyway. Itís too early for me to think. Itís bad enough I have to be here at 9 AM after working last night.. But now she wants me to write? Give me a break," etc., etc., etc. After you write about how you canít write, hate to write, are too tired to write, and so forth, bring the discussion around to the topic youíve been asked to write about:

Letís see, my earliest memory of reading or writing. Would have to be when I was in 1st grade. No, wait. My Mom used to teach me and my sister to make words using alphabet magnets on the fridge . . . ., etc.

Notice that the writing is fragmented, doesnít use "proper" sentences, and shows the thought-process itself. This is all good, because youíre not expected to submit this for anyone to read. Rather, itís like a warm-up exercise for thinking, writing, and writing as youíre thinking. No place here for hesitation, deleting words, or pondering what it is you want to say. Instead, under time pressure you just blurt it out on paper or on the monitor, and then fix/change it later.

Practice Exercise 

Try looping in class or at home. In either case, remember that you must time yourself, start writing immediately, and not pause or reread during the time limit. If blocked, just write about how blocked you feel. After a few sentences, bring your discussion around to the topic at hand.

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