Freewriting is extremely simple, and for some people, incredibly powerful. Be ready to try it in a moment when I say Go! - after I describe how to do it. First, choose a starting point for the exercise – a topic, subject, phrase, question, something you’re going to start writing about, just for practice. If you don’t have a starting point handy, then use “I don’t know what to write about” as your starting point.
How to freewrite? You can do this either on paper or on the computer. It has only one rule: Start writing and don’t stop until the time is up. Keep your pen or your fingers on the keyboard moving, no matter what. Do not concern yourself with spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Don’t even worry about making sense. It’s best not to even look back at what you’ve already written. Just keep writing on. Make sure you don’t censor yourself – it’s only an exercise! Let yourself go wherever your thoughts or your pen or your keyboard take you.
If you get stuck, if you don’t know what you want to write next, then write those thoughts, like, “Uh-oh, I don’t know what to write now, I’m thinking thinking thinking,” which will eventually take you on to something else. Are you ready? Set a timer for five minutes, and using the starting point you have selected, begin freewriting and do not stop for five minutes. Turn off this recording and Go!
Hello again. Were you able to keep writing without stopping? If not, remember, just keep writing anything, it doesn’t matter what, and you’ll soon feel some sort of flow starting again. Maybe you’re writing “junk junk junk” – never mind! There’s just one more step I’d like you to take. Look back over what you wrote now and find one thing – a word, a phrase, an idea, an image – that strikes you as
interesting. It doesn’t have to be particularly unusual or brilliant, just something that jumps out at you, that looks, sounds, or feels like it contains some further potential. It could even be the word “the.” I’d like you to freewrite again for five minutes, using that word, phrase, idea, or image as your new starting point. Go!
Now repeat the process of reading over what you just wrote and selecting something that hits you as interesting, puzzling, intriguing, or promising. Get set for another five-minute freewriting segment, and go!
Congratulations. Now you know how to freewrite. How did it feel compared with the way you usually write? Many people find it freeing to experience writing without worrying and judging how it’s coming out.
Now I want to suggest three major ways to think about incorporating freewriting into your writing process. The first is as a way of generating raw material. Did you find yourself getting deeper into your subject as you did the second and third segments? Then maybe this is a good way for you to come up with ideas, examples, and inspirations. You can take whatever is useful from your freewriting sessions and throw out the rest.
Or did you find yourself getting farther and farther away from your subject into the silly, irrelevant, or needlessly heavy territory? Then maybe you want to think about freewriting in the second way, which is as a writing warm-up. Singers warm up by doing scales. Freewriting can function in a similar way. Many people find that freewriting lessens their “terror of the blank page.” If that’s true for you, and the content doesn’t seem useful, do freewriting as a warm-up, throw it away and then start your “real” writing, with more ease.
Third, some people say that freewriting helps them get their worries, fears, and thoughts out of the way. They freewrite about what’s top of mind, throw it away, and feel clearer and more focused, ready for the real writing task at hand and less prone to distraction.
There’s a variation on freewriting for those who prefer typing to handwriting. Did you find yourself unable to resist looking back at and judging what you just wrote? Then the next time you try freewriting, turn off the computer monitor just before you begin the exercise. You won’t be able to censor and judge as you’re writing.
I call this the “invisible ink” technique. The computer remains on, and when you turn the monitor back on, you can scroll back and see what you typed, but not while you’re doing it. It helps in quieting the internal critic since the critic has no visible words to latch on to and criticize.
By the way, if you didn’t like freewriting, don’t be concerned. While many people I’ve worked with swear by it, to be honest, I don’t get as much out of freewriting as I do the other exercises.
In the next lesson, you’ll get to have a taste of clustering, the second writing exercise.