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Oh, the joys of Freewriting…!

Or Timed Writing, or however you like to call it. The deceptively simple act of sitting down with a pen and a piece of paper (or perhaps a keyboard and white screen), set a timer or a goal, and then… just write. Never stop, never edit, never overthink it, never mind grammar of spelling, never go back. Just write, as fast as you can. Just let if flow – until the timer rings, or the goal is met.

When you get there, if you want, you can stop, and you are done for the day. Unless you find yourself caught in the flow of it – and then go ahead, by all means.

And for the first few times you’ll feel like an utter fool, writing foolish things just to keep the pen moving until the damn timer rings, and itching to go back to straighten the spelling you know you botched in the fourth line… But it’s all right. This is nothing you’ll ever show to anyone – not in this form, anyway. This is between you, your subconscious mind, and your inner censor. Why, for some time it will be only a matter of breaking through some kind of resistance – but if you can find it in yourself to persist…

If you persist, you’ll find that Freewriting is a most wonderful, multipurpose tool.

  • It’s the perfect warm-up before writing
  • It’s great for brainstorming
  • It lets you explore characters, ideas, possibilities
  • It allows you to experiment freely with voice and dialogue
  • It’s ideal to try out different points of view, narrative tenses, and such
  • It lets you worry at plot knots until they come undone…
  • It has you play when you risk of taking yourself (and your writing) a tad too seriously…

And I’m sure there are countless other uses I never thought of – but you will, once you make the practice yours and begin to test the possibilities. And you really should. After all, it’s quite easy to try, and ten minutes (or three pages) can be carved out of all but the most impossibly busy days, and you can adapt it to your liking as you go… The only thing I suggest, is that you keep it up for a week or two at least – knowing that it won’t necessarily work from the beginning, but most likely will if you give it a little time.

As for what you write about… well, you can choose a theme, or work on something from your work in progress, or open a dictionary an choose two random words (two, not one – because it’s the juxtaposition that sparks the ideas), or write to music, or use prompts. There are lots of prompts, out there: you only have to google “freewriting prompts”, and you’ll have heaps of them thrown at you, both verbal and visual, in lists or in books… I love and use Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book of Days, with its varied, interesting prompts, and its wealth of suggestions and tips to set up your ideal freewriting practice. Some of the suggestions are more than a little impractical, and at times the author waxes a little lyrical – but never mind. I go with the day’s prompt – sometimes tweaking it a little if it doesn’t suit what I want to work on, and sometimes putting it together with something else entirely: like a random word, or a question from Proust’s Questionnaire, or a prompt from another source…

I wrote the better part of a draft of Sweet Ned this way, and one of my best stories ever, Gentleman in Velvet, emerged, rough but reasonably complete, during one freewriting session. So you see why I always recommend the practice to my pupils.

Is it the panacea? No – but it’s a useful, easy, wonderfully versatile tool. Does it always work for everyone? Well, no. Nothing always works for everyone – but, when it does work, it does so rather spectacularly.

Worth a try, don’t you think?