Freewriting

FREEWRITING/OPEN-ENDED WRITING

Freewriting ‘is simply private, nonstop writing… [It] means:

  • not showing your words to anyone (unless you later change your mind);
  • not having to stay on one topic – that is, freely digressing;
  • not thinking about spelling, grammar, and mechanics;
  • not worrying about how good the writing is – even whether it makes sense or is understandable (even to oneself)’

(Peter Elbow, Everyone Can Write, p.85)

  1. Set yourself a period of 5 minutes and just start to write whatever comes to mind – don’t stop to reflect – don’t go back and correct – if you get stuck, just repeat the last word until the flow starts again – the object of the exercise is to write continuously without stopping
  2. Relax and read through what you have written – underline anything that seems interesting or significant, whether sentences or individual words or phrases – choose one of these and write it at the head of a clean sheet – do another 5 minutes of continuous writing, starting from this sentence or word or phrase
  3. Read through the second ‘freewrite’ – again underline anything significant or interesting – perhaps there’s an overall theme or feeling emerging in the writing – write this at the top of another clean sheet – do another 5 minutes of continuous writing
  4. Now reflect on what you have written in the last piece (or the earlier pieces). Pull together anything significant, arranging it into a short piece of writing.

You may or may not want to go through all these stages on every occasion; sometimes you might find it easiest to just to freewrite for 5 or 10 minutes and put the writing away for a while. Other times you might want to go through some or all of the stages with the aim of producing something.

Freewriting can be used in conjunction with Dorothea Brande’s idea (in Becoming a Writer) of early morning writing, i.e. wake up half an hour earlier than usual and, before doing anything else, start writing whatever comes into your mind, thoughts of the day, snippets of dreams, etc. Or you could use freewriting at the end of the day, to reflect on the day’s happenings, thoughts, etc.

As well as being a great way to offload busy thoughts and worries, this is like doing regular exercise – it makes it easier to get into the flow of writing when you sit down in front of a blank page or screen. Or you could use it to brainstorm a potential idea or a character and see where that leads you. Simply begin with a significant detail, or something telling about the character, and keep writing.

Use freewriting as a way of limbering up (as runners do before jogging), before aiming to begin a poem, story or chapter or to get back into writing when you’ve become stuck and lost momentum.