Freewriting is to writers what warm-up exercises are to athletes. It’s a way of limbering up the writing ‘muscle’. It’s a way, as I explain on the page on writing prompts, of training your subconscious mind to be open and creative and original and intriguing - which, of course, is exactly what we fiction writers want from our subconscious minds!
Julia Cameron in her classic book The Artist's Way recommends that we freewrite three pages every morning: the famous morning pages.
But what exactly is freewriting?
It’s a writing technique where you start with a sentence, or a question, or a concept, and then you write non-stop for a period of time, usually 10 or 15 minutes, in what’s called a stream of consciousness.
What you do is to keep the pen moving, or the fingers moving on the keyboard without stopping. It’s very important that you don’t stop, and here’s why. It’s all about the Internal Editor.
I invite you to read the page exploring the causes of writer's block for information on why the internal editor is so keen to judge and criticise our work. It’s because it, for good reasons, is trying to stop us writing. It does that by interjecting thoughts which make us feel about what we’ve written.
Freewriting, however, silences the internal editor by bolting the door to it. Because you’re writing non-stop, there is simply no space for those negative thoughts to squeeze in.
So do you see why it’s so important to keep writing? Keep that pen moving. Keep those fingers dancing on the keyboard.
But, you might be saying, I just am not able to write so fast.
Yes, you are. I promise. You just are probably not able to write polished perfect-enough-to-please-the-internal-editor prose, so fast.
But remember what I said: you cannot get this wrong.
So what you do with free-writing is to keep writing, no matter what comes out. Write whatever comes to mind, no matter how rubbish it is. Write, I don’t know what to say over and over if that’s what you need to do. It doesn’t matter, once you’re writing. The only way you can fail is to pause, or stop. Once you are writing, you are doing it right.
You probably will find that the freewriting isn't in complete sentences, and that your grammar and spelling suffer. That's okay! Getting sentence structure, grammar and spelling right are left-brain activities, and freewriting is most definitely a right-brain activity. You can't concentrate on both at once, so don't try.
Over time you will find that a few very interesting and very exciting things happen:
- You may start off in an exercise writing, I don’t know what to write but after a few minutes you may find that that’s not true. You may write something like, “I don’t know what to write but maybe I do. Maybe I could write about princesses and clouds and fiery dragons. Or maybe I could write about dungeons and chained princes and spells. Or maybe I could write about bankers and overdrafts. That last was only an example of course, your stream of consciousness will of course be different.
Maybe as explained above, you mind find your writing is just lists of words, or fragments of sentences - anything is possible.
- Over days and weeks as you do this exercise regularly, you’ll find that you spend much less time not knowing what to write, and much more time writing fun and interesting stuff. That’s because your subconscious is becoming trained to this new way of being, and it’s much easier to turn on the tap of creative writing ideas whenever needed.
- Over time you’ll find this exercise so freeing. It’s as if you were carrying huge weights around and now you can let them go. You’ll know that you’re truly creative and that there is a well of inspiration there for you. Of course you’ll never use a huge amount of what you write, but that’s okay, because:
- You’ll find that gems are cropping up. Ideas that could move on to becoming a full story. They were there all along, waiting for you to uncover them. It’s magic!
I do urge you to give freewriting a good try. You'll find the time it takes will repay you in so many ways. Start of by writing witout stopping for maybe 5 minutes, and gradually work your way up to 10 or 15 minutes. You can use this excellent online stopwatch to help you time yourself.
Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way
Just click on the image to be brought to its page in your local Amazon store.
You can also do your morning pages by typing them, and if you use this website: www.750words.com it'll keep track of your word count and so on. It's completely private to you, as morning pages should be.
I do think there is a benefit to handwriting rather than typing, as it's more kinaesthetic, but doing it any way is better than not doing it at all.
One more thing: Don't use a fancy notebook.
Fancy notebooks have this inherent assumption that what we write in them has to live up to their fanciness.
I have beautiful notebooks friends have given me over the years, and I love them and cherish them.
But I have never written one single word into them, as I don't want to sully them. I need to wait for the absolute best words of wisdom, poetically expressed, to justify using those notebooks, and of course that calibre of writing never happens.
Don't use a narrow reporter's notebook either - that's not expansive enough.