Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Every writer has heard of it -- and for good reason. It is a tool every writer should have sitting at the top of their toolbox, ready to use. I think of it is as an incredibly productive warmup, and like the stretch before a run it helps me to flex my thinking and prepare my mind to write. It allows me to turn over the stones in my mind and find what ideas I have hiding within the flow of my thoughts.
Ok, but what is freewriting?
Freewriting is the act of freerange writing -- writing without fencing in your thoughts and ideas by standards of grammar or subjecting them to your inner editor and critic. You quite literally write whatever comes to mind, even if all you write for an entire page is -- "I have no ideas. I got nothing. Nada."
Asking yourself to write what comes to mind can feel awkward, and you may end up writing random words, but even a freewrite made up of a random list can be productive. In fact, I once wrote a full freewrite of just nouns and adjectives. Here is an excerpt: "Mountain. Cartwheeling. Panda. Thundering. Lightbulb. Elephant. Shoes."
I think there is something interesting in pairing the word "thundering" with "lightbulb" and that in itself made the freewrite worthwhile. One of the best outcomes of a freewrite is finding something within it that captures your interest and attention that you can pursue further if you want to.
How to freewrite: Sometimes, just starting is the hardest part. This is where freewriting comes in. It dissolves the pressure of perfection, and allows you to just begin. It is surprising how effective freewriting is in allowing you to capture whisps of ideas that could one day grow up and become full blown stories or poems.
Here are some steps to get started:
First off, cap your red pen. You don't need it. And also, take your hand off that gavel. You aren't on trial, you don't need an inner judge.
Gather your materials, pick your poison -- whether it's your laptop or a pen and paper. I think there is something special about the act of physical writing, and that there is magic in the way that the speed of my writing echoes the pace of my mind and the way my own hand can carry my voice, so I usually opt to write by hand. Also, no angry red lines materialize under misspelled words or improper sentences when writing by hand, which makes it easier for me to stay entranced in the rhythm of writing. However, many writers soley use their computers to write. So go ahead, use whatever method of writing you normally use.
Pick an amount of time to write for and set a timer. I invite you to write for 10 minutes and see what happens, but you could also freewrite without a time limit and stop when the freewrite comes to a natural end. Or, you could go the route of freewriting as needed, before setting out to work on your essay, poem, short story, novel, or even blog post.
Do not worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. They do not matter. Let go of all that so you can start to get to know your own voice, and the writer within.
Now all that's left to do is write.
Remember, you don't have to use any of the material that comes from your freewrites. You are free to do whatever feels right. You can read it over right away, or set it aside and circle back to it later. You can even pick what interests you from your freewrite and begin another freewrite on that idea or phrase to see if you can develop it more. Or, you could rip it up and never read it again.
Spice it up!
If you want to challenge yourself, or vary up your freewriting practice, you can try out some alternate freewriting methods, such as writing to music, or using a question or phrase to guide your writing:
My favourite way to freewrite is to write to music -- either music I know or playlists I have never heard before. The music sets the tone, and I love creating something within that tone. Music has an incredible ability to evoke emotion which then cascades into my writing and allows me to sink deeper into the scene, setting, or character I am writing about.
Another way to purposefully employ freewriting is to let a question guide your writing. For example, if you have an essay question that you just don't know how to approach, try freewriting about the topic for 15 minutes, and you might be surprised at the progress you make towards understanding the question and formulating a powerful thesis. Contrarily, you might realize you need to switch topics if you can't uncover any original thoughts on it at all.
There are also plenty of writing exercises that are centered around freewriting. One thing you can try is taking the first sentence from another work, like a short story or novel, and picking up where the first sentence leaves off. When you finish, just erase the borrowed first sentence, and you will have something completely unique -- and entirely separate from the original material -- that you can possibly develop further.
Freewrites are fantastic resource to sift through in order to re-discover lost ideas, which you can then finesse and work with. Within your freewrites will be diamonds to dust off and shape into something wonderful.
Freewriting is an access point for writers to meet themselves in their writing, and discover their unique voice. It increases the fluidity of ideas, and dissolves the barriers we all have in being able to recognize ideas as good ideas. Freewriting allows writers to explore ideas before they get caught up in their unconscious nets, such as their self-editor, inner critic, or the secret fear that their ideas are just not good enough. They are good enough. So go on, give them a chance -- a little room to breathe and be magic. Your writing will be better for it.