Your greatest enemy and critic when writing is often yourself. While there are countless articles and snippets of advice for getting around writer’s block, freewriting is one of the easiest tricks in the book. It requires nothing but you and your writing equipment to help get those creative juices flowing.
Let’s take a look at what freewriting is, how it works, and how to use it to get your best writing down on the page.
What is freewriting?
Freewriting is a simple, structured writing technique, often used by those who feel like they’ve hit a wall when it comes to getting anything on the page. It usually involves a time limit, and the direction to write without thinking about what you are writing during that period, which includes throwing all regard for grammar, spelling, and self-criticism out of the window.
Freewriting should unleash your creativity and produce raw (and potentially quite odd) content that gets the ball rolling if you’re stuck in a rut.
Freewriting may sound a bit hit-or-miss, but plenty of people use this technique successfully. Most importantly, you might be surprised at the ideas that show up once you reconnect to your creativity.
How to Freewrite
So how do you freewrite? That’s the million-dollar question we’ll answer for you here — in four simple steps.
1. Rid yourself of distractions.
Find a quiet place where you know you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes. Gather any writing materials you need. Turn your phone off or on silent, and, if you use a laptop to write, make sure no notifications will pop up.
Some people who type like to use a pad and pen for freewriting just because that red squiggly line that indicates a misspelling (especially likely to happen if you’re typing fast!) on word processors can be a bit off-putting. But feel free to use what works best for you.
2. Set a timer.
If you’re a beginner, ten minutes is a good ballpark amount of time to kick things off. It may feel like ages or nothing at all, but try to stick to it and see what comes out.
Once you begin, whatever you do, don’t stop until the timer rings. This is the one time you can throw all spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and any other writing rules out of the window. The goal is to get words on the page, and nothing else.
You almost want to be writing faster than your brain can process the words coming out of your pen or keyboard—then you’ll get the rawest (probably quite incoherent!) results. This is what you want, though.
As many will tell you, writer’s block is 99.9% psychological. What freewriting does is essentially take the brain out of the equation, just for 10 minutes, so that you can get writing again.
Even if you end up writing, “I can’t think of anything,” over and over again, chances are that by the end of 10 minutes you’ll have written something else. Even if you don’t quite get that far, you’ve still got something down—and released some negative thoughts from your system.
4. Stop when the timer ends.
When the timer rings, you’re done. Don’t write anything else, unless you’re on a real roll. Read over what you’ve written and underline (or highlight) what you think you might be able to use—you’ll be surprised how much more usable content is on that page!
Use a Prompt
If you are still stuck, there’s nothing wrong with using a writing prompt. However, unrelated that prompt may seem compared to what you want to write, you might surprise yourself with how much relevant (and usable) content comes from something that seems irrelevant.
You can use a theme, an emotion, a place, a character, a question, or any combination of the above. Equally, if you want to develop something you’ve already written, try to find a question or statement within your writing as a prompt in itself. Again, use any combination of the above. Even real people can serve as useful prompts.
To get you started, try freewriting to one of these four prompts. (For more inspiration, you can go here and sign up to get new writing exercises sent to your inbox every week.)
- It was the fifth door he had knocked on…
- The mind is truly the scariest thing of all.
- “You think you have a choice?”
- All the lights went out. Power cut? Or something else…
Remember: if you don’t use what you write, that’s fine! The mental boost of being able to say “I’ve written something today” will be worth it. The idea is to suspend judgment, so remember that the one and only purpose of this exercise is to get words out of your head and onto the page.
Finally, if you find that freewriting helps, turn it into a practice. Ten minutes of freewriting a day turn into a remarkable amount of writing if you make it a habit.
Remember this: you do have ideas in your head, so no need to despair. Freewriting is super useful, but it’s not making ideas for you. It’s helping you bring to the surface existing ideas already by relaxing the framework of normal writing.
Hopefully, freewriting will help you get out of any writing ruts and introduce you to a new way to do what we all want to do — keep writing!
Have your tried freewriting? Tell me how it worked for you by leaving a comment below.
About the Author
Emmanuel Nataf is the founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.