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What freewriting is and why you need to do it

Writing Prompts

What is freewriting?

Freewriting is essentially writing without editing, without stopping, without censoring yourself and without thinking too much about it. Do it longhand in a notebook if you can and don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar for now. You might set a timer or start with a word or character or idea  – but that’s not necessary.

Where do you stand on freewriting? From my experience, most writers either love it and use it all the time, or they hate the idea. But just maybe – bear with me here – freewriting could be the secret sauce that you are missing! What’s more, it’s possible that if freewriting makes you feel uncomfortable, then it’s exactly the skill you need to practise. Take the test below to discover your freewriting tolerance level.

Test your tolerance to freewriting

Do this. (You can handwrite or type although I think longhand is best when you first start.) Set a timer for one minute and do nothing but write. Don’t take your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard. Don’t re-read what you’ve written. The only other rule is: keep going!

You can write rubbish, you can write ‘Why? Why? Why?’ over and over – or the swearword equivalent. You could write a list. It doesn’t have to be spelt correctly, you don’t have to make sense or use good grammar. Don’t stop to think about it. Don’t censor yourself – you don’t have to show anybody. You are the only audience here. Just keep writing.

If you can’t think what to write about, start with the word ‘blue’ and write what comes into your head. Still stuck? Describe what you can see (or hear or taste or touch or smell). Let me reiterate the most important part of this exercise: KEEP WRITING for the whole time!

How was that? Were you tempted to go back and re-read or edit? Interesting! On a scale of zero to ten, how tempted were you to go back and edit? Zero being ‘it didn’t occur to me’ and ten being ‘I found it impossible not to.’ Let me know in the comments.

Now do this

  1. Re-read the rules above. Set the timer for five minutes and repeat the exercise. Next try ten minutes.
  2. Here’s a bigger challenge: next time you go to write something, try freewriting for half an hour first.
  3. And here’s a thought experiment – try it for real if you like – what about two hours? Do you think you could freewrite for two hours with no re-reading, no editing – simply writing without stopping?

Each time, consider how tempted you were to go back re-read and edit and give yourself a score from zero to ten. And consider how it made you feel. Happy? Relaxed? Free? In the zone? Uncomfortable? Frustrated? Annoyed?

Your score

You most frequently scored zero to three: you are freewriting-friendly. Congratulations! If I had a freewriting-friendly badge, I would award it to you straightaway. Use freewriting regularly. It’s a super-powered writing gift and it will help you generate plenty of words, often very quickly.

You most frequently scored between four and six: you are an ambivalent freewriter. You hedge your bets. You’re not sure if you like it but you’re willing to give it a go. There are times when freewriting will work well for you. Consider using it as one of a range of tools, especially when you want to write quickly or when you’re stuck. Practise and you might start to like it!

You most frequently scored between seven and ten: you are extremely freewriting-phobic. I suggest that you ban yourself from reading your work back / editing it immediately at least once a week, to get a feel for it. It is possible that a spot of regular training in freewriting will set your writing on fire – however frightening it seems.

Why use freewriting?

Freewriting is great for:

  • Getting over so-called ‘writer’s block’
  • A warm up / getting going
  • Idea generation – if you keep going for long enough
  • Getting over our internal censor or judge
  • Getting over the tendency to edit as you go (and, in extreme cases, to never get past the first paragraph)
  • Getting into the ‘flow’ of what you’re writing

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more exercises like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

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