I’m stuck. This isn’t any good. I can’t think of an idea.
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.
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.
Don’t hold back.
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.