Freewriting tends to polarize people. I’ve met those who refused to even try it and others who loved it from the moment I explained the concept. For my part, I shifted; I started hating it, but learned to appreciate it later.
Whether you’re new to freewriting or you’ve been familiar with it for a long time, I beg you to give it a chance. It’s one of those experiences that may be unpleasant at first, but if you give it a chance, it will grow on you. Think of it like trying a new food: possibly weird at first, but over time it can become something you crave. My wife had a hard time getting me to try curry, but sure enough, I was wanting more the next day. (I may have gone back to the restaurant the next day for lunch. Shh.)
I’ve come to see freewriting in some form as being the foundation of all my drafting. I may not always follow all the principles each time I begin a draft, but the basic ideas of holding back self-censorship and the desire to edit are hugely valuable.
What’s freewriting? Here’s an explanation of the basic concept for the uninitiated.
1. Start with a blank document/page.
2. Choose a topic.
3. Set a target time for your writing (5 minutes is good when starting out). Use a timer that you cannot see to avoid distraction.
4. Write on the topic for the full time.
5. Do not stop writing until the time is up. Keep your your fingers typing or your pen moving the entire time.
6. Do not censor your writing. Write whatever pops into your head, no matter how absurd, boring, or irrelevant.
7. Stop when the time is up. Take a break before doing more writing.
I’ve bolded the text for steps 5 and 6 because they are the most crucial part of the approach. They are also the part that people tend to skip or avoid. Needless to say, don’t avoid these steps!
The whole point of freewriting is to produce ideas off the top of your head—to get the stuff that’s lurking in your brain out so you can examine it. If you stop to reconsider what your writing a couple of undesirable things will happen:
1. You’ll slow down. Don't do it! We never want to slow down when drafting. Get the words. Fill the pages with words. The focus at this stage is to move the ideas out of your head and to create as much material to work with later as possible.
2. You’ll want to revise. Don’t do it! The time to nit-pick will come, but for Pete’s sake, let it wait. Let your drafting be drafting and let your revision be revision. If you try to combine them, neither one will be as good.
For most people, avoiding the tendency to slow down and revise is hard. Persevere, friends! I was introduced to freewriting as a college freshman. I hated it. Everything that I produced was choppy, unfocused, and embarrassing to read. Only after being forced to perform freewrites in classes multiple times did I begin to understand the value. Freewriting doesn’t create a beautiful, polished writing product. It creates the raw materials crucial for your later stages in writing.
Think of it like manufacturing something, such as a car. Before the car can be finished with paint and upholstery, it needs to have the engine installed, the drivetrain assembled, the chassis welded, and a host of other steps. Before any of those steps can be completed, however, the materials need to be obtained. Metals, plastics, leather or cloth—any number of items are dug from the ground, formed through a chemical process, or derived from plants and animals. This first step of obtaining the raw materials relates to the first part in writing: getting content out of your head. Your brain is akin to the mine in the ground, the laboratory, or the farm. You need to get the raw materials out so they can be worked with. This is what freewriting does for the the author: it provides the raw material that becomes the finished text.
In the next post on freewriting, I'll talk about how to boost your writing ritual after completing a freewrite.
(Funny side note: my drafting program is attempting to autocorrect the word freewriting. It thinks I’m trying to say ferreting. So if you should happen to see a word that describes hunting things out like a long, skinny rodent, you’ll know what happened.)