Planning or mapping a piece of writing can be difficult. Sometimes we have a topic or a theme we want to write about and other times we have nothing, we only know we want to write something.
This is where freewriting can be a useful exercise.
What is Freewriting?
Freewriting is an exercise in exploration.
It is not about the quality of what you write, or even about the content. It is about forcing yourself to just get words on the page, allowing your subconscious to escape. Sometimes characters or themes will come to life in a freewriting session. Topics or points to mention or research will appear and ideas will begin to formulate.
How Do You Freewrite?
Set a timer, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start writing.
Let the words flow without hindrance. Feel free to switch topics at random. Don’t think too hard.
Freewriting is not about right or wrong, it is about generating ideas and exploring them. Ignore grammar and sentence structure and even flow and logic and just write, write, write until the timer goes off.
If you get stuck, just keep writing, repeating a word or a sentence or even “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” until something else comes into your head and through your pen.
When your timer beeps, take a deep breath. Roll your shoulders back and give your neck a gentle stretch. Then stretch and wiggle your fingers. Take another deep breath.
Now look at what you wrote. Read it through once. Then read it through again and circle or highlight words or themes that repeat or pop out to you. These are the topics you might want to explore deeper.
Go Where Your Mind Takes You
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance; for this, and not the external mannerism and detail, is true reality.”– Aristotle
The most common method of freewriting is a no prompt method in which you just start writing about whatever comes into your head. No reservations, no self-editing, no censure, just writing whatever comes to mind.
I studied dance at a college in Toronto. It was a full year of ballet, modern, jazz, vocal and acting classes. Some days we were dancing for six to eight hours. The modern dance and acting instructors decided to team up together to create a 20-minute piece for the year-end performance. I was lucky enough to be a part of this piece. And lucky enough to play a part in writing it–by freewriting.
The choreographers had all the dancers sit in a semi-dark studio with a piece of paper and a pen. Then they asked us to write for 10 minutes about anything that came into our heads.
I wrote about my relationship with my twin brother. I wrote about the strange questions people ask me when they find out my twin is a male. I wrote about my frustration at always being compared to him.
After we wrote, we were asked to circle anything in our text that popped out at us or seemed significant. Then we handed our papers in.
The next week, the choreographer and the acting coach arrived with the theme and script for our joint performance piece. It was about being a girl and it included dancing and spoken word. The second scene in the piece was my monologue about being the female twin in a set of male-female twins.
Use a jumping point
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
– Orson Scott Card
Another, more structured, way of freewriting is to use writing prompts.
Some people say this isn’t technically freewriting, but I think it fits into the category. Just like the no prompt method, you’re letting your mind take you wherever it chooses to go. You’re just giving yourself a launchpad of a written prompt or a picture or even a conversation happening at the table beside yours in Starbucks (this is where the short story collection I’m currently working on comes from).
Pinterest is a great place to find writing prompts for all kinds of genres.
How Do You Use Freewriting?
Yes, most of what ends up on the page during a freewrite will need to be reworked or, most likely, trashed. But the exercise allows you to explore, to rapidly get some ideas on paper, and to give your characters or your theme free rein.
As N.M. Kelby wrote in the article “Map your novel” in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, “You’re not looking for publishable pages, you’re just looking to unlock the possibility of a story and give yourself an understanding of the depth of the project.” This quote is about planning your novel, but I think the concept applies to free writing too.
It’s a useful too for both creative and business writing to figure out what’s important to you. It might take a few tries before you find it valuable. But try it a handful of times and see if it helps.