Basics of Free Writing

Writing doesn’t have to feel so hard.

You’ll often hear writers talk about writer’s block and the struggles of getting the words onto the page. For those that don’t consider themselves writers, this can create the impression of an unapproachable blank canvas, a scary entrance into the world and art of writing.

But the real difficulty is not getting the words out. It is getting past our own internal critic that says we are not good enough or that what we have to say is not important or valid.

Free writing can help you get the words out and get past your own inner critic.

Free writing or timed writing is a method used by many writers and writing instructors. In its simplicity, it is often overlooked as the best method for getting the words on paper and past your inner critic.

The basic “rules” of free writing:

1. Keep your pen moving.
2. Don’t edit as you write.

Our brains process thought faster than we can write (or type). It’s natural to think of what you want to say as you mark the words down. But with free writing, the goal is to keep getting the words out – without stopping to think, censor, or edit what you write. It’s one way to override your internal editor and allows you to say what needs to be said.

Timed method

You may decide on a time limit for your writing. Set a timer then simply put pen to paper and begin writing. Do not lift the pen up from the page until the timer has ended. Beginning writers may find it useful to start with a short block of time such as 5 or 10 minutes. With practice, you may be able to free write for 30 minutes or more.

Page limit

If you choose to write for a specific number of pages, place a line or mark at the end of your last page before you begin writing. This is similar to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages where she instructs writers to fill three pages each morning. With free writing , however, you can choose as few or as many pages as you like.

You can use it as an exercise at the beginning of a writing session to get you started. I start all my writing workshops with free writing exercises. And you may use it to write about any topic you wish to explore.

Keep writing

Keep writing until you’ve reached your page marker or until your timer runs out. You don’t need to write quickly. But you may notice that your thoughts are racing passed your writing hand. It is okay if you do not get each thought onto the page before it escapes you.

Just keep writing the words that come and don’t lift your pen from the page. If you don’t know what to write, you may write simply “I don’t know what to write” until the next thought comes.

Do not stop to reread what you have written yet. Do not scratch out or correct anything as you write. Simply keep writing.

Themed writing

You may have something in particular you want to write about. Free writing will allow you to explore what you already know about your subject. You can begin with a word or a phrase. Write this word at the top of your page and begin there.

Surprise yourself

Even with a theme in mind you may find that the words you write will surprise you. As you out-write your inner critic, you will begin to notice connections between ideas and feelings that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought to attribute to your writing theme.

The beauty in free writing is that your subconscious mind has a chance to sneak out onto the page, not just exposing what you know about a topic, but often creating connections you didn’t even know existed.

The place to begin

Free writing will help you fill that blank page. It may not create the best first draft. It may not even relate to what you were hoping to write about. But it will produce material for you to consider and explore what you know, what you want to know, and where your writing can take you.

Free writing will give you a glimpse into what it is that you really need to say.
Have you been surprised by your free-writing exercises? I'd love to hear what you write about when you get past your inner critic. Tell me about it in the comments below.

One response to “Basics of Free Writing”

  1. […] process of free-writing is one way to help us get past our inner critic. It’s an exercise many writers to turn to […]

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