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Starting to Write? Try this!

For writers who are just starting out

Generating words through freewriting

Peter Elbow writes about something he calls ‘freewriting’ in his book Writing with Power. If you’re starting to write, freewriting is one of the most powerful techniques you can use. Try it now. Write without stopping for one minute. No rules, apart from: don’t take your pen off the paper or your fingers off the keyboard. No need to spell, punctuate or even stay on the lines! Quick tip: pick a starting word if it helps, such as ‘sea’ or ‘blue’.

Most of the writing games and exercises mentioned in this post involve freewriting of a sort, but if in doubt keep coming back to the original version of the technique: simply writing, without censoring yourself, without trying to make sense, and without stopping, for a set amount of time.

Close observation and live writing

One way to use freewriting is to pair it with close observation. Close observation, once you get the hang of it, is also a powerful technique. Begin by finding an object to look at. Make it something you can hold in your hand. Observe it closely – I mean really examine it in detail – bringing in all of your senses, for one minute. Now write about it.

Optional extra to try later: Have a go at ‘live writing’. When you’re able to, go somewhere with your notebook – a park, a café, an interesting building, a museum, a gallery – and write  about the place you are in while you are there.

List games

Lists allow us to let go of making sense, and of the idea that there’s such a thing as ‘proper’ or ‘good’ writing. They also allow us to get concrete words down quickly, without padding. Try it now. Think about the last journey you went on, from leaving your house to arriving. Make a list of words.

Now focus on your front door in your mind’s eye, and moving through it from the inside to the outside. Think concrete words as much as possible, rather than abstract ones. In my case, I might write dandelion clocks, seagulls, cats. Make another list of words describing what you see when you move through your front door.

Next, conjure up on a front door or backdoor that you remember from childhood or from another place you lived. Make another list of words.

Create a poem

Use all of the lists you’ve created so far. Come up with pairs of words. These pairs don’t have to make sense. For instance, ‘fire book’ or ‘sky tree’ sound intriguing but don’t obviously go together.

Use your pairs of words to write a poem. Remember this is a first draft! Use ONLY the pairs of words plus any other words on the lists you’ve created so far. You can add in words like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘at’ etc.

I hope you enjoy these exercises. Let me know how you get on in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,


P.S. I’ve got a brand new – totally free – writing course out called Writing for Beginners. It’s short and friendly and will help you to get going straight away.

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