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How to freewrite

How to freewrite

Freewriting is a technique in which the author writes their thoughts quickly and continuously, without worrying about form, style, or even grammar. Alongside brainstorming, freewriting is typically used early in the writing process to collect and manifest one’s thoughts. The resulting writing is usually not intended for the final draft.

Freewriting can be a liberating, albeit intimidating approach especially in creative writing, journalism, and academic writing. It means to write at your best, you first have to write at your worst!

Freewriting is invaluable for organizing your thoughts and overcoming creative hurdles like writer’s block. But there’s a little more to it than just “write quickly, badly.” Here’s a quick guide to answer all your questions and determine if freewriting will help your process.

Benefits of freewriting

When we write, we never just focus on the writing itself. We’re focusing on what the reader will think, whether they’ll understand it , and how certain parts fit into the big picture, all while avoiding spelling and grammar mistakes. The goal of freewriting is to wipe away all those secondary concerns and return to a focus solely on the writing.

Of course, the final product won’t be “publication ready.” The point is to reveal your writing’s pure and distilled essence without worrying about those distractions.

The benefits of freewriting revolve around organization, brainstorming, and inspiration, as well as beating writer’s block and relieving certain anxieties. Just getting anything written, even if it is imperfect, can jump-start creativity.

Freewriting can also defuse some of the writer’s own internal obstacles: self-criticism, apathy, fear of failure, maladaptive perfectionism, or even deadline dread.

Just like brainstorming, freewriting produces a handful of ideas that you can later rearrange and develop further. However, unlike brainstorming, freewriting also adds insight into the optimal order of your topics and structure as a whole. It can also help cultivate your unique writing voice. Not to mention, it can inspire some ideas you may not have thought of otherwise.

Furthermore, because you’re actually writing, you may generate some words, phrases, or sentences that you can carry over to first draft—after a proper polish, that is.

How to freewrite

Typically, a writer will set aside a certain amount of time—the standard is 15 to 20 minutes — and write without stopping. If you have a topic already, you can start with the most basic thoughts on that. If not, write about whatever comes to mind . . . literally. When you make a mistake, keep going. Don’t worry about what your reader will think or what the next sentence will be, just keep going no matter what. Embrace the flow.

Freewriting is supposed to be sloppy, disjointed, and full of errors. That’s how you get those raw and unfiltered ideas. Give yourself permission to write poorly; you’ll be surprised at how much good writing comes to you when you take the pressure off.

Forcing yourself to write under these conditions creates a certain mindset. It taps into the part of your consciousness that’s not weighed down by distractions like fretting what the reader will think or puzzling over how to spell “occurred.” When you’re blocked creatively or paralyzed by too many ideas at once, freewriting is just what the doctor ordered.

To see it in action, check out these freewriting samples from Lumen Learning . You can also look into the works of known writers Peter Elbow and Natalie Goldberg, who both helped popularize the freewriting technique.

Freewriting tip: Always be writing

Freewriting doesn’t have a lot of rules (that’s why it’s called freewriting ), but there is one you must follow: Don’t stop writing until you’ve reached the time limit. Your hand should always be moving, whether you’re typing or writing it out freehand. This is part of what makes freewriting useful; it forces you to write something, urging you past any resistance, especially from yourself.

What if you don’t know what to write? Freewriting uses whatever is in your head, even something like, “Help, I don’t know what to write.” After a few minutes, your brain will come up with something—those are often the moments when inspiration is just around the corner.

When to use freewriting

As we’ve mentioned, freewriting is a handy technique for the first stages of the writing process. However, there are many other times to embrace it.

You’re stuck creatively (writer’s block)

Freewriting is a popular cure for writer’s block and other creative hindrances. More often than not, writer’s block stems from fears and anxieties—sometimes, these are subconscious. freewriting alleviates those fears by providing a safe environment where mistakes are not only forgiven, but also encouraged.

You’re overwhelmed

“There’s so much to write about, I don’t know where to start!” If that’s the case for you, freewriting is where to start!

Freewriting is ideal for getting one’s thoughts on paper, like an intensive brainstorm. Often the stress of getting started is enough to prevent us from getting started, in which case freewriting gives us a loophole.

You want to practice stream of consciousness

The literary technique “stream of consciousness” has a lot in common with freewriting. It’s used in narrative writing to mimic how one “sounds” in their own head, made famous by writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. If you think stream of consciousness would suit your project, freewriting is a natural gateway to get your feet wet and get into that mindful flow.

You’re learning another language

Speaking another language isn’t just about memorizing vocabulary and usage—reaching fluency also requires thinking quickly and conjuring up the right words as quickly as possible. Freewriting in your second language strengthens these time-sensitive language skills. Even if you make grammatical mistakes while freewriting, it’s a powerful way to practice organic expression in a new language.

You’re new to the writing process

Writing is a skill that gets better with practice. If you’re just starting out, you can use freewriting to train the fundamentals. Treat it as a literary warm-up exercise. Try doing a freewriting session every day and watch your writing improve after just a couple weeks!

Want help freewriting?

What do you do after freewriting, when you’re left with a meandering draft full of mistakes? Grammarly can instantly identify all the spelling and grammar mistakes in your freewriting sample, and even suggest the best fixes for clarity, tone, and conciseness. Download it now to make sure everything you write is polished, easy to read, and mistake-free.

There is only one rule in freewriting: don’t stop until the time’s up.

Set yourself a limit (either set a timer or decide on a number of words or pages to fill) and write, rapidly and with no pauses

If you need to, just repeat “I don’t know what to write” until something better emerges.

How to freewrite

How to freewrite

You are Not the Author

Remind yourself that no one will ever read this and try not to judge as you write, in fact try to avoid analysing it at all apart from keeping a loose sense of the meanings of words or phrases: it’s as if you were watching the words appear without having any part in the production of them.

Try to think of yourself as the detached observer, or reader, of the words that are being written, rather than the author.

How and How Long?

I could no more freewrite on a keyboard than do it by skywriting in a plane; I have to write by hand. It’s quick, physical, adaptable to the outdoors and I also have a fountain pen and notebook fetish but you might feel a similar connection to a laptop and that’s fine too. Speed is the priority and focus is key: a pencil isn’t fast enough and a PC with things pinging on it to grab your attention is absolutely out.

Freewriting for ten minutes (or three A5 pages by hand, which is about 500 words if you are typing) is a good target for beginners or anyone on busy days but an hour-long freewrite is an interesting experiment and in general, the temptation is to stop just when something promising is emerging.

How to freewrite

How to freewrite

Set theme or Open?

Some people, or some people sometimes, need a topic or a constraint on content to make this work. I have a tendency to revert to journalling and while this is not “bad” (no judgements, remember!) I often feel disappointed when a freewrite turns out as just a moan or a to-do list.

Natalie Goldberg, whose books “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind” are the best and earliest guides to freewriting (along with Peter Elbow’s, such as “Writing With Power”), recommends “I remember” or “I am looking at” as ways to kick start the writing.

What’s the Point?

Freewriting does not produce publishable or even coherent pieces of work. It can produce astonishingly original, beautiful and arresting images, ideas and memories that would be entirely unavailable to the same writer if she were trying to produce them on purpose.

The unselfconscious mind in a state of relaxed, permissive play, safe in the knowledge of privacy and a lack of criticism can turn up all sorts of diamonds in the rubbish heaps of freewriting.

You won’t always be able to use what you write directly but it will awaken those parts of the brain that make poetic images, vivid scenarios and closely-observed characters, or indeed, philosophical concepts, because freewriting doesn’t just help creative writers it can make other sorts of writers more creative.

How to freewrite

And sometimes you will be able to use it: a poem is right there in the middle of a page, you just need to clear away the weeds. Or a character’s most vital childhood experience has been identified in one of your own recovered memories. Or the real theme of the piece you have been struggling with for days simply reveals itself in the final sentence of a three-page blast about how how stuck you are on it.

Most of all, perhaps, freewriting means you are a writer and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t do it. If you’ve got a scrap of paper and five minutes to wait for a bus you can freewrite: therefore you are a writer.

Prewriting is an important step in the writing process. Fully exploring your ideas and planning out how they will take shape in your paper will ensure you are able to achieve your purpose. Depending on your learning style, some prewriting strategies may work better for you than others.

One common prewriting method is freewriting, which complements kinesthetic and reading/writing learning styles.

How do you freewrite?

To free write, writers give themselves a set amount of time, grab paper and a pen or pencil, and then begin writing out their ideas about their chosen topic as they come. Freewriting means a writer doesn’t stop writing and doesn’t take the time to edit or adjust the ideas on the page even if a mistake is made. The ideas are meant to be unstructured and messy in a freewriting exercise.

Keep in mind:

  • What do you do if you can’t think of anything to write? Write things like “I don’t know what to say next” or “bagels” and eventually something will come to you so you can move on.
  • Experts have found that pen on paper is a stronger memory enhancer than typing on a computer, so freewriting is best done by hand (Smoker, Murphy, & Rockwell, 2009).

Why should you freewrite?

  • Freewriting helps you identify everything you already know about a topic.
  • Freewriting also identifies gaps in your knowledge on a topic to guide you toward areas to research.
  • Freewriting pushes you toward previously unexplored aspects of your topic and leads to new questions.
  • Freewriting can reduce writing anxiety. You don’t have to worry about it being “correct” or in complete sentences, or flowing from one thought to the next. It’s just a collection of random thoughts.
  • Freewriting is also just a great, low stakes writing practice!

Did you know?!

While we have talked about freewriting as part of the prewriting process, it can be used in other ways.

Freewriting can be done multiple times at multiple stages of your writing process to keep the ideas flowing. It can also be done when your ideas get stagnant and you need to reset.

Tip: If you want to freewrite on your computer, turn off your monitor. That way, you won’t be tempted to fix every spelling error as you type out your ideas.

One of the most important things to remember about freewriting is that it is disengaged from your actual essay – what you write in a freewrite activity should be read and re-read to pull out the meaningful and relevant bits to inject into what you end up writing for your assignment. A freewrite isn’t something to be fixed. It’s something to be used, something to comb through and sort out which ideas are useful and which you can set aside.

Smoker, T. J., Murphy, C. E., & Rockwell, A. K. (2009). Comparing memory for handwriting versus typing. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 53(22), 174-1777. doi: 10.1518/107118109X12524444081755

Freewriting Examples

Example One

This student “stalled” by asking questions, which helped them to dig further into their topic. Use that technique if you get stuck to push yourself in new and interesting directions for your paper.

How to freewrite

Example Two

Notice how this student stalled when they couldn’t think of anything to say by writing things like “I also think about accomplishment when I think about…” and “I guess I’ve had a lot of accomplishments…”

You don’t need to always write things of substance. Sometimes just writing “I don’t know what to write” or things like “Purple Ponies” can keep your hand moving while your brain thinks about where to go next.

Ten minutes may not sound like much time, but you'd be surprised just how much you can write if you follow the instructions and just keep writing—without stopping.

Keep in mind that freewriting is just a way of warming up to the writing process. Some days inspiration will strike and you'll produce something truly creative. Other days your composition may consist of an entire page of repetitively writing, "I can't think of what to write." And that's okay because at least you're writing.

The idea is to keep working at the craft. Just don't worry about the result. Instead, focus on writing without judgment, and remember, it only takes one inspirational word or creative sentence to get you started on the road to a new piece of fiction.

A Transcription of 10 Minutes of Freewriting

What follows is a look at ten minutes of freewriting (known in the world of psychotherapy as "free association").

"Freewriting. What to write. Grocery store. Girl with the strawberry mole. First with father, now with mother. Fireworks in the park. Uncurious women. Evening. Cooler air. Couple sitting in their garden with their bare feet in a kiddie pool. Lawyer boyfriend knows all about open container laws. Don't stop. Eight minutes to go? Don't stop. Packing suitcase. Bring the mini suitcase home from Canada. Shuttered houses. Still windmills. Half-shut cat eyes. Staying late in the office. Rain in Texas. Webs of fire ants floating down the river. Great rivers. I don't know anything about great rivers, but we walked down to the creek the last year we lived in the dorms. Through the rainstorm, Clemente and I, to see the swollen creek rushing below, threatening to overflow its banks. That's how it happens in that part of Texas. One moment the creek is a safe trickle and an hour later it could swallow you up. But it doesn't last. By the next day, the ground would have absorbed most of the water. We only had that afternoon. But we had that afternoon. We were barefoot, I remember that, though I don't know where we left our shoes. We didn't hold hands, but we felt close, as though we had. As though we had been through something more. As though the flood was standing in for something."

Choose a Few Elements to Develop Into a Story

In this freewriting example, there are two different possibilities for a story. If you were the writer, you could focus on the little girl with the strawberry mole. Maybe her mother is embarrassed by the mole. Maybe people mistook the mole for a wound of some kind when the girl was a baby, and the young mother came to feel that there was something wrong with her. Maybe over time, the mole had come to represent the mother’s sense of her daughter’s otherness. Or, you could take it in a science fiction or magic realism direction. Maybe the girl has some kind of supernatural power associated with the mole, and the mother has a reason to be afraid of her daughter.

The more obvious choice, though, would be to continue the story of the walk in the rain. The original musings were about a walk taken with a friend during college, but for dramatic purposes, you could change it from a platonic relationship to a romantic one. You would probably want to write about an adult relationship (not a college relationship) so you would change, “We walked down to the creek the last year we lived in the dorms,” to “We walked down to the creek the last day we lived on Hemlock Street.” That’s the beginning of a story: A couple takes one last walk to a beloved creek before moving out of a house. They’re separating, and the separation has to do with the man’s coldness. The swollen creek becomes a symbol for the emotions the narrator had to repress while living with him. They are both still the kind of people who take barefoot walks in the rain. Or, perhaps they used to be those kinds of people, and they’re also saying goodbye to their former selves, the selves who fell in love with each other.

Feel free to choose a writing prompt, and then get a timer and see where your ten minutes takes you.

How to freewrite

Are you compelled to write?

Do you sit in front of your computer dying to write your story, poem, memoir, or research paper? Are words flowing from your brain faster than you can capture them? Most of us don’t feel that way every day. We need something to stir ourselves into writing. The following freewriting techniques are an incredible way for you to get writing even when you have w riter’s block.

They awaken your mind, helping you write words and ideas.

What is freewriting?

It’s an activity where you write non-stop for a set amount of time. During that time, you write about anything that comes to your mind. Peter Elbow recommended this technique for learning how to write by developing ideas, voice, etc.

The idea is to write and keep writing without stopping to edit, revise, or correct anything. If you get stuck, write, “I can’t think of what to write, “ and keep writing until the time is up. Some writers will even say, “You can’t take your pen off the paper!”

The benefit of freewriting is that it takes what is inside your head and puts it onto paper (or on a computer, tablet, or cell phone).

Freewriting Techniques

There are freewriting techniques that super-charge the creative process. These 3 types of freewriting activities get you fired up and energized to write. They help you uncover ideas, people, and things you can write about for a writing project!

  1. Focused Freewriting
  2. Morning Pages
  3. Character Journals

#1 Focused Freewriting

This is freewriting based on a prompt or question. It gives you inspiration or something to consider while you write. Focused freewriting gives you a direction to explore in your writing.

Focused Freewriting Prompts give you a topic. For example, “Visualize your favorite place and describe what you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, etc.” Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within includes a fantastic list of creative topics you can use.

One of my favorite focused freewriting activities is called “Writing off the Page” (Goldberg 23-24). To do this, pick a line from a poem and write it at the top of your page. Start writing based on the line and keep writing. Every time you get stuck, write down the line again and continue writing. Check out the infographic, “5 Freewriting Prompts: To Unleash Your Creativity,” to see more freewriting prompts.

How to freewrite

Focused Freewriting Questions: This type of freewriting is where you ask a question about a topic or subject. For example, “What’s the most important thing people need to know about this subject?” Writing a response to a question helps you discover ideas.

If you want to add more details about a subject, select an idea from your freewrite. Write the idea at the top of your page and freewrite again. This is a freewriting activity called “Looping.”

If you want to learn more about this type of focused freewrite, read my blog post, “5 Creative Prewriting Activities to Get You Fired -up to Write Awesome Essays.” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/5-creative-prewriting-activities-to-get-you-fired-up-to-write-awesome-essays/.

#2 Morning Pages

The concept of Morning Pages comes from Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way.

Morning Pages are three long-hand pages of writing you do when you first wake-up. It’s “stream of consciousness” writing. Julia Cameron describes this as a clearing of your mind before you start the rest of your day.

Cameron says Morning Pages are not creative or beautiful. They are just what you think about. Check out this video to see Julia Cameron describe how Morning Pages help people live creatively. http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

I like this freewriting activity because I’m thinking on the page. My Morning Pages reflect how I feel and what I’m worried about. I write about what I’m doing. I often figure out my ideas for a story, essay, research paper, or blog post. I also write about family, friends, and anything else on my mind.

It’s a challenge to write 3 full long-hand pages. Sometimes, I want to quit, but when this happens, I push myself to keep writing. At the end of the morning pages, I feel like I have plans, thoughts, and ambition for what I’ll do next.

# 3 Character Journals

Are you writing a work of fiction? Character Journals help you develop your character’s voice and get you inside the mind of your character.

I first learned about character journals when I wrote my first novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is an activity where you write from the perspective of a character. I write journal entries as if I’m one of my characters.

I keep a character journal for each of the main characters in my story. I write from all the main characters’ perspectives in a story (including the antagonist/s villain). Especially the villain because I find it challenging to get inside his/her mind.

Some ideas for journal entries are:

  • Reflections on a character’s past events( backstory).
  • Views the character has of events in the story.
  • Interview questions you ask a character.

I write a character journal entry before any fiction writing session. My brain is connected to my characters, and I find myself eager to write the next step in their journey. I care more about what will happen to them.

Another approach to this type of journal is to write from the perspective of characters you’ve read about in a book or characters you’ve seen in a film or a TV show. People who write from other characters’ points of view understand those people’s or being’s (alien, elf, animal, etc.) motivations and actions.

Choosing Freewriting Techniques

One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is staring at a screen or a page and thinking, “ I don’t know what to write.” Freewriting makes it easier to start writing even when you have writer’s block.

Each of these freewriting activities is unique and helps you write differently. Focused freewriting and Morning Pages work for writers in all genres. They work for academic writing, blogging, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Character journals help fiction writers dive deeper into their characters.

Select the activity that speaks to you and do it regularly. Make that freewriting activity a habit. Freewriting works best when you do it daily. The more you freewrite, the easier it is to think creatively and write!

I use freewriting with all of my students, and it’s one of the keys to their writing progress in any writing: academic, personal narrative, fiction, poetry, and blogging. Try some of the freewriting techniques and see how they make you a better writer!

Freewriting helps you identify subjects in which you are interested. It assumes that you know your interests subconsciously but may not be able to identify them consciously, and it assumes that you can bring your interests into consciousness by writing about them (as writing equals thinking). Freewriting is like stream-of-consciousness writing in which you write down whatever happens to be in your thoughts at the moment. After you do a number of freewritings, you may find that you have come back to certain subjects again and again. Repeated subjects are good for further development through writing, as they obviously are important in your thoughts.

To freewrite, use your computer or get paper and pencil, whatever is more comfortable for you. Get a kitchen timer or a watch. Write down whatever comes into your head during five minutes without concerning yourself with complete thoughts, whole sentences, or correct spelling or punctuation. Don’t even be concerned about making sense in the writing. Just concentrate on recording your thoughts and filling as much space as possible before the five minutes elapse. If you can’t think of anything to write, just write “don’t know don’t know” until you have other thoughts. If you think that this exercise is stupid, then write “this is stupid this is stupid” until you have other thoughts. Remember, the purpose of freewriting is to fill as much space with as many words as possible in the five minutes of writing time. After the first five minutes, rest a minute and read over what you have written, then follow the procedure at least two more times. Stop at this point and do something else. Do another series of five-minute freewritings later in the day. You may be able to discern common threads (repeated ideas) after you do a number of freewritings. The ideas you repeat are good ones for essays as they obviously are ideas that interest you.

Sample of Freewriting

Read the following set of three freewritings. Can you find recurrent thoughts that would be interesting for the writer to develop?

One obvious topic for this writer seems to be “time,” or the different ways in which we perceive time (adult vs. children’s perception of time, how time is counted in sporting events, etc.). “Annoyances” may be another topic, as the writer mentions that he/she “could go on about this one.” Actually, any topic mentioned here is a possibility for an essay (“bugs,” “cliches,” “greenhouse effect,” “puns”); the choice depends on the writer’s purpose (research or non-research writing?), interests (for which topic can I most easily generate information?), audience (what will interest my readers?), and parameters (what is the type of writing assigned?).

Freewriting is most often used to develop a topic, but it can also be used if you have a topic and don’t quite know how to approach it, as shown in the following video. It’s a useful writing strategy.

Almost every practicing writer faces these negative thoughts at one stage or another. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, if your internal editor is holding you back, or if your current writing project is troublesome, there is a solution.

How to freewrite

It’s called free writing.

It’s a writing technique during which writers express their ideas without caring if they make sense, how they are spelt, or even if they are usable.

Free writing can help you overcome problems like writer’s block and self-criticism. It’s also a type of writing practice that any writer can benefit from, no matter their experience.

If you’d like to free write, these ten tips will help you get started:

1. Write without editing yourself

Free writing only works if you don’t question or criticize every sentence, idea and story that you put down on the blank page. Instead, let the words flow freely from your fingers onto the page without pausing or questioning what you are saying.

Then, when you’ve finished your free writing for the day, spend time polishing, buffing and making your prose shine.

2. Time your free writing sessions

To get the most from free writing, apply this technique during concentrated, sustained and timed bursts of creativity.

Get a clock (or the timer on your computer), set it for twenty-five minutes and write. Then, when the buzzer sounds, take a short break and repeat. Do this two to four times before taking a longer break.

3. Write whatever comes to mind

Free writing enables you to follow a train of thought in new and exciting directions. Some of these directions may be dead-ends, but they’re still worth exploring.

When you’re free writing, record what you’re thinking or if you feel distracted – it doesn’t matter if it’s unrelated to the topic you’re writing about. This could mean recording the sound of a dog on the street, the colour of a plant on your desk, or even a swear word.

4. Free write for an hour or longer

This is a tough tip for writers to implement.

If you’re struggling to make a breakthrough, free write for an extended period without taking a break. Your job is to keep going until you make a break-through.

Yes, this is mentally and physically demanding but you don’t have to do it very often, and it will help you break through those difficult barriers every writer faces at some point.

5. Keep your hand moving

This is straight from the pages of Natalie Goldberg’s excellent book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

An advocate of free writing, or writing practice as she calls it, she recommends “keeping your hand moving.”

If you’re a typist, don’t take your fingers from the keys until you’re finished writing. If you prefer a pen, this means keeping the pen pressed between your fingers. And if you like to dictate your writing, keep the dictaphone recording until you’re done.

6. Keep a list of topics to free write about

I use Evernote to organize my writing. Inside Evernote, I keep a notebook full of topics that I want to free write about. Examples include ideas for short stories, sentence fragments, blog posts and ideas that I want to expand on.

Then when I want to free write, I pick one item from my notebook and go with it. Keeping these types of lists means I spend less time looking for a topic and more time free writing.

7. Combine free writing with other types of writing

Free writing is just one writing technique you can employ to advance your work.

There are times when it makes more sense to plan your writing in advance or aim towards a target word count. Combining free writing with other types of writing sessions will help you mix things up during the week, test your boundaries, and avoid becoming bored with the process.

8. Keep your cast-offs

Free writing also produces a lot of leftover ideas and copy that doesn’t immediately belong anywhere. Whatever you do, don’t throw this writing in the bin or delete it.

Instead, keep your cast-offs in your journal or a file on your computer.

There will come a time when it makes sense to return to these leftovers and extract something useful from them. And even if this time never comes, they serve as markers for your progress as a writer over time.

9. Read a book in your niche, take an idea from it and expand

I read a lot of non-fiction books. This means I regularly come across ideas that surprise me, inspire me or confound me. Sometimes, I take these ideas and expand on them during free writing sessions. Free writing about ideas helps me internalise them and figure out how I can apply them to my creative life.

If you want to do the same, underline key passages in the books you are reading, write notes in the margins, and review these notes when you’re finished with the book (the Kindle is idea for this). Then, pick one or two ideas and use these for your next free writing sessions.

10. Free write a problem upside down

Are you having trouble with a particularly writing project? Perhaps the feedback from a client isn’t helpful. Or maybe you can’t figure out the right arc for a short story.

Write down this problem at the top of your page. Now free write everything about the problem that’s bothering you and even what you’re afraid of. Then, free write all the solutions you can think of.

It doesn’t matter how preposterous, outlandish or impractical they sound. If you get lucky, you’ll make a breakthrough and even if you don’t, you are still venting your frustrations and practice writing at the same time.

Why You Should Free Write For Kicks

As a writer, there are times when you need to reach your goals, hit a word count and press publish. There are other times when writing is supposed to be fun, when you need to try something different or when you must go in a new direction.

For these other times, free writing is the perfect writing technique. This week, allocate 30 minutes of time you usually spend writing, and use it to free write about whatever you want. If it helps, think of free writing as a guilty pleasure.

Who knows where you’ll end up.

Have you tried free writing? If so, how was it for you? Share with us in the comments.

How to freewrite

Instead, supply ample experience with the subject (engage the five senses, read several different perspectives, watch movies or visit sites, and talk about the subject with your children). Allow your child to spend time digesting and mulling over the topic. Once your student has a sense of ownership of the subject for writing, it is time to get some words on paper. Here’s how.

Guidelines for freewriting #

Set the timer for ten minutes (3-5 minutes if it’s the first month). Rub your kids’ shoulders. Encourage them to wiggle, flex their fingers, crack their necks and adjust their papers and chairs.

Read these guidelines to your kids.

  1. Keep the pencil moving without stopping for ten minutes. (It’s okay to start with 3 or 5 minutes, if that feels better to your kids.)
  2. Write everything that comes to mind, even seemingly unrelated comments like, “I hate writing. This is too hard. I don’t think I would have liked Columbus if I had met him.”
  3. Don’t self-edit. Allow for bad handwriting, poor spelling, grammatical errors, sentence fragments, lists of verbs, little arrows, or quick drawings. Get it all down without worry about how it looks or whether or not it is right.
  4. Be outrageous. Use vocabulary and descriptions that sound overboard, silly, or absurd. Make comparisons and connections to other subjects (even if they seem at first glance to be irrelevant or unrelated).
  5. Keep writing, no matter what, until the bell rings, and then stop.

After a freewrite: Guidelines for the student #

  1. Take a break. Drink a glass of water, do ten jumping jacks, run around the block, or take a break on the couch.
  2. Come back to your paper without a pencil and just read it.
  3. Do not let your mom or dad read your writing yet. If you’d like to, you may read it aloud to them. (Mom and Dad: Do not read a freewrite before you hear it. You will undoubtedly miss the brilliance for all the spelling and grammatical errors. Instead, look for the continuity of thought, the bursts of expression, and the flashes of insight. Do not think of this raw writing as the finished product.)
  4. Feel free to underline any part you might wish to expand later.

Guidelines for Parent #

After a few days or a week has gone by, it’s time for your feedback. Begin by identifying the core elements that are strong. Find at least two. Example: “Virile is a wonderful descriptive term” or “I didn’t know you knew how a tank worked.” Be concrete and positive. The fact that your son or daughter actually filled several lines on a page with words is worthy of affirmation. You can simply say, “Thank you for writing the whole time.”

If there is little developed content, it may be an indication that you asked for a freewrite before your child had absorbed enough material related to the topic. If this is the case, notice it without disapproving of the writing. Instead, say something like, “I see that we need to read a few more books about World War II. Good start.”

If there is enough content to work with, begin to lead your child to discover ways to expand and improve what was written. Ask questions like, “Which countries fought in the war?” or “Can you describe how the cocoa looked in addition to how it tasted?”

Highlight these areas that need development. Bring a clean sheet of paper to your writer. Freewrite again, focused on one specific area of content. This process can occur indefinitely in the generative stage of writing (and kids figure that out, so limit the development to two or three ideas, not all of them). Be careful not to require too much writing in a single day so as to keep the words fresh and prolific. Don’t tire your young writers and thereby crush their enthusiasm.

Caution: When beginning to use freewriting in your home, skip the editing phase (mopping up the mechanics) for a while. Begin by affirming any work that is written. If your child chooses to share his or her writing with you, enjoy it and ask for the chance to share it with the other parent or grandparent. Expand the number of people who get to enjoy your child’s raw writing. After your child really believes that you value content over the mechanics, that is the time to introduce the notion of editing the writing for accuracy.

In all things, be sensitive to your child’s process. Each child is different and deserves a tailor-made writing program.

How to freewrite

A freewrite is sort of what it sounds like: the practice of writing freely and with no controlling goals or expected outcome. There are timed freewrites, where you write for a specified amount of time, and focused freewrites, where you begin with a more narrow topic. While freewrites are deliberately unstructured, they are something you must commit yourself to. Here are some rules that can make freewriting easier:

  1. Keep your hand moving the whole time. Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to control what you’re saying.
  2. Don’t cross out and especially don’t erase. That’s editing, not writing. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Don’t even care about staying within the margins or lines on the page.
  4. Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  5. Go for the jugular. If something comes up in your writing that is scary or unexpected or vulnerable, don’t be afraid of it. It probably has lots of energy.

These rules are adapted from Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Katherine E. Garren, J.D.
Pre-Law Adviser
Division of Undergraduate Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
101 Grange Building
University Park, PA 16802
Email: [email protected]

Phone: 814-865-7576
Fax: 814-863-8913
Hours: 8am – 5pm (Mon-Fri, Eastern Time)