When I was in high school, I had some bad writing habits. Some I still haven’t gotten over. The impulse to turn all of my characters into sad robots is like some sort of inescapable addiction, and to this day I can’t write a story without somebody dramatically falling off a cliff into oblivion.
Ahhh, cliches. Delicious like pie.
My biggest vice in high school, though, was self-editing. I wouldn’t put a word down on the page until I was SURE it was the word I wanted. I would spend ten minutes poring over whether I wanted to say ‘darted’ or ‘dashed’, and wouldn’t let myself go forward until I had found the perfect phrase with the precise connotation that I wanted. On the plus side, what I said was pretty succinct. On the negative side, very little got said.
Now, I’m not saying that a degree of self-editing is a terrible thing. It’s great to be able to pick between your options and go with the best one, but it can certainly be taken too far. You train yourself to ignore possibilities, and never let yourself try out a potentially bad idea.
So how can you get out of that groove?
Free writing is basically stream-of-consciousness writing. Putting down anything and everything that pops into your brain as you go, whether it’s elegant or crass or the Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers theme*. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s there and out.
So, step one. Select an amount of time. Five minutes is just about perfect when you’re starting, but you probably don’t want to go longer than fifteen.
Step two, no distractions. I know lots of us like music or television or something going while we write, but it’s ideal if it’s just you and your brain, doing a twosome tango of talent together. Teehee.
Step three, select a topic. This is a bit trickier. You can select whatever topic you like, but I find that freewriting is easiest in the personal essay genre. Answering a question about yourself, discussing your opinions, elucidating on one of your memories. You are your own best topic when it’s your consciousness that you’re trying to stream. To help you get moving, here are ten solid topics for a freewrite:
- Why is your favorite color your favorite color?
- What does your handwriting say about you?
- What’s the earliest thing you can remember?
- Are you scared by monster movies?
- Are you what you wanted to be when you grew up?
- Are you most like your mother or father? Or somebody else?
- Do you have a sense of style?
- Do you think you could run your own business?
- How do you feel?
- What’s your favorite song?
There. That’s enough to get you started, although there are limitless possibilities. Also, be warned, the topic you start with may not be the topic you finish with, and that’s a-ok. In fact, it’s encouraged. You may begin with the menu for your favorite Thanksgiving and end up with the best possible color for a paperclip. The more your mind wanders, the less you’re trying to inhibit your creativity, which sounds like so much fluffy bullshit, but trust me when I say that you want that. You want to be able to let your brain go somewhere without you. Which leads me to…
Step four. Go. Seriously. Set your timer or look at the clock, and start writing, as fast as your hands will let you, and don’t stop. The key here is to be writing continuously for as long as your time goes. No hesitating or pausing, and absolutely positively unequivocally NO DELETIONS. Even if you misspell or a word or botch some punctuation, you can get it later. Just let it go. It’s all part of the point. Once your time is up, if you feel the urge to keep going, KEEP GOING. If you want to stop, go back and read over what you wrote, see what you like, what you don’t. See if you’ve surprised yourself with your spontaneous phraseology, or if you can trace a voice emerging that you haven’t seen in your work before.
Step five, do this often. It’s a great way to warm up before you start your serious daily writing, or even as kind of a refresher once a week.
So get moving! It’ll only take five minutes out of your day. If you’re a brave soul, write your topic and your time limit in the comments below, and then SHOW US WHAT YOU GOT. C’mon.
I’m calling you out.
*Some…times! Some…crimes! Go slipping through the cracks, but these…two! Gum…shoes! Are picking up the slack! There’s no case too big, no case too small! If you need help just call…CH-CH-CH-CHIP AND DALE! RESCUE RANGERS! CH-CH-CH-CHIP AND DALE, WHEN THERE’S DANGER! It never fails, they’ll take the clues, and find the WHERES and WHYS and WHOS! CH-CH-CH-CHIP AND DALE!