You’re a pretty darn good writer.
It’s true! Go ahead, pat yourself on the back—you’ve earned it!
After all, you’ve written at least one book, you write on social media all the time, and you probably blog pretty regularly. You’ve got plenty of practice and you’re always honing your craft.
So why do you feel stuck sometimes?
It happens to all of us. In the middle of a manuscript, the words just dry up. Or we can’t find the right topic for our next blog post…or, worse, our next book. Maybe you just don’t feel like writing today.
Whether you call it writer’s block, fatigue, mental fog, or a case of the donwannas, it sucks.
Fortunately, you don’t have to let the block win! Creativity and creative productivity are both things that you can train yourself for, just like a runner trains for a 5k or a marathon. By exercising your writing muscles, you can boost your creative output to levels you never would’ve thought possible.
And freewriting is one of the best exercises you can do when you’re training to ramp up your writing.
Grab a pen and let’s dig in!
What Is Freewriting?
Think of it as stretching: freewriting happens before the “real” workout of a writing session. It’s an unimpeded, unplanned, completely free-form writing session where anything goes.
Basically, all you do is put on a timer, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and write for a predetermined time. That can be anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes (more isn’t recommended—again, think of it like stretching; if you stretch the entire time, you won’t get the full benefits of your workout).
You’re not writing with a particular topic in mind, like with journaling or a regular writing practice. You’re just writing down whatever comes into your head, paying no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. This isn’t a rough draft—it’s a pre-draft, if that! You are literally just writing, writing, writing with no end goal or editing.
Anything goes. If you can’t think of anything to write, write that you’re blanking out! Keep going until your thoughts change, then write those down.
The key is to just keep writing your stream of consciousness until the timer dings. Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Just keep writing.
At first, this may not be easy—but stretching gets easier with time and practice, and so does freewriting. Keep at it for a few days and your pre-writing “stretch sessions” will start to feel more and more comfortable and even essential.
So what’s the point of all this?
There are three main ways that freewriting can improve your creative career. Let’s go through them.
Freewriting is one of the best ways to break through a dry spell or creative block. Without consciously realizing it, a lot of us surround our writing with a heaping helping of anxiety, apathy, self-criticism, and other negative emotions.
We worry about meeting deadlines, disappointing our readers, getting good sales and reviews, or even what else we should be doing with our writing time. All those bad vibes add up and can create one heck of a dam of negative emotions holding back our writing.
After all, if you’re subconsciously freaking out about something to do with your writing, you’re not in a calm, comfortable place that will let you actually write! And worse, if you’re freaking out about whether what you’re writing is any good, you’re definitely going to have a hard time putting words down.
Freewriting short-circuits the negativity by forcing you to write whatever spills out of your head, no revisions and no questions asked. It’s not supposed to be good writing—in fact, the more rambling and weird your freewriting, the more it’s serving its purpose.
So by doing just 5 or 10 minutes of freewriting before your real writing session, you’re likely to get past whatever creative block has got you stymied by tricking it—your bad writing is actually good, useful writing!
See? Doesn’t that make it easier to dig in to the real stuff now?
2. Idea Generator
Because there are no rules, freewriting is an amazing method for generating new ideas and themes for your work.
Unlike brainstorming, you’re not just listing ideas. You’re writing actual full thoughts (even if they’re not grammatically correct all the time, or spelled right, or…you get the picture). So your ideas have a little more room to grow and to start expanding.
As you freewrite, a topic might catch your interest and start to blossom on the page. If that happens, you know you’re on to something that could possibly become a chapter, a short story, a new ebook idea, or so on.
This is where the stretching metaphor really comes into play. If you think of your actual writing time as a 5k run, then your freewriting is the stretching session that limbers you up beforehand. Freewriting loosens up your ideas, warms up your thought processes, and gets you ready to tackle the task at hand. You’ll be able to objectively see where your mind’s heading right at that moment and can then channel that interest and passion towards a more structured writing session.
If your freewriting angle doesn’t match up with your writing plan for the day, that’s fine too! Either hold onto it for another session, using your freewriting to start gathering ideas for other writing projects, or switch up your plan of attack to concentrate on what’s obviously on your mind.
You’re always more productive when you’re engaged with what you’re working on, so even if your freewriting veers away from the topic of the chapter you were supposed to be getting done, it can all work out in the end—maybe by working on what’s really got you enthused right now, it’ll give you the motivation to keep going after that’s done and power right back into the chapter you planned! So now you’ve got two chunks of writing done. See? Stretching helps you go the distance!
Of course, you can also do what’s called focused freewriting, where you’re still not paying attention to grammar, and you’re still writing for an uninterrupted period with no editing allowed. The difference is that you’re writing on a particular topic.
Say your next chapter needs to be on building treehouses. Just write “treehouse” at the top of your page and set your timer. The thoughts and themes that come out of your freewriting will likely show you the direction your structured writing should take—your brain will automatically spit out the topics that you believe are most important to cover. Once you’re done, read back over what you’ve freewritten and see how you might be able to turn it into outline form. And with that, you have your writing plan for the day, thanks to focused freewriting!
Apart from its use to limber up the creative muscles, freewriting has the potential to tap into our hidden anxieties and fixations. By giving yourself permission to just dump whatever’s in your head onto the page, you’re letting go of the constraints of your daily life. You’re abandoning grammatical rules and, with that, you may find yourself abandoning certain norms, like not talking about what’s bothering you or not being honest that, say, you’re completely fed up with how everyone expects you to vacuum and do the dishes every day.
Freewriting certainly doesn’t replace a good therapist, but it can be an incredibly powerful tool for getting in touch with your thoughts and emotions at a given moment. Letting your thoughts flow free onto paper—preferably by hand—translates your inner life into a form you can then read back over with a little remove.
It often seems easier to deal with a problem or a frustration when it’s written out, and even if you don’t come up with an immediate solution, you may find yourself feeling more reflective and deliberate in how you approach your issues.
Plus, writing out what’s bothering you may help you move past it—you’ve put it down in physical form, so now you don’t need to keep chasing your problems around in circles in your mind. You’re free to move past them and get on with other things.
The sense of calmness and increased control that you can get from brain-dumping your issues onto the page via freewriting can boost a lot of areas of your life, not just your writing.
Given the low cost of entry—a notebook and a pen or pencil—and the amazing rewards of more and better ideas, faster flow, less stress and anxiety, and more productive writing sessions, isn’t it time that you made freewriting part of your writing workout?
Freewriting can limber up your creative muscles, helping you move past anxiety, generate more ideas, and feel more in control of your writing and your life.
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Freewriting isn’t the only way to boost your creative career. Check out these other handy articles:
- Increase Your Wordcount with Ambient Noise: 5 Tools to Get More Done with Sound
- Hygge for Writers: 8 Tips to Get Cozy and Write Better
- 6 Ways To Tell You’re Burned Out—And What To Do About It