Tips For Successful Writing – Free Writing

13 Aug

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?

You freewrite.

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:

  1. Why is your favorite color your favorite color?
  2. What does your handwriting say about you?
  3. What’s the earliest thing you can remember?
  4. Are you scared by monster movies?
  5. Are you what you wanted to be when you grew up?
  6. Are you most like your mother or father?  Or somebody else?
  7. Do you have a sense of style?
  8. Do you think you could run your own business?
  9. How do you feel?
  10. 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!


Posted by on August 13, 2009 in Life


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7 responses to “Tips For Successful Writing – Free Writing

  1. saturdayjane

    August 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Okay. I’m going to go for five minutes, and my topic is “Business Cards”.

    I’m not going to lie, I’ve always wanted business cards. I’m not sure why. There isn’t a lot I can DO with them, as a writer. Maybe as a blogger, but I’m shy enough that I don’t think I’d ever hand them out. There are all of these parties and greetery things for networking that you’re supposed to be able to do for blogs and stuff, but I’m really just no good at that, although I’m having to get a little better for the job i have now. All the time, on the phone. “HI my name is JESSICA”and being perky, just to get what you want. I guess that’;s what business is about, in general though. getting peoiple to give you what you want. Depressing. I still want business cards, though. Tess had some once that she was thinking of making, from I think maybe a template on a mac computer ? and my first thought was I COULD DO THAT, just like at a kinko’s and it would be so EASY and I could put my blog logo my blogo hehe on it and hand it out to everyone again though with the not being brave enough. do I even WANT everybody to see this blog? Yes and DAMMIT i got interruptted. Stupid telephone. I’m not supposed to have it on for this even, I think. Way to follow your own rules, Jessica. oh well. Trying to get back in the swing of things, I still have like two minutes left. And now I’ve entirely lost my train of thought buty I’m just writing now so what the hell uh I mean HECK mom says that I should cuss less on this thing. Not cuss LESS necessarily, well, yes, cuss less, but she admits readily that it’s a ‘mom thing’ and not something that I necessarily have to say as gospel. Take as gospel. I say necessarily a lot. I wonder why? it’s sort of a way of not having to say excatly what I mean, I think, like saying ‘it’s BASICALLY blah blah blah’ or ‘It’s LIKE blah blah blah’. That’s become a huge trend now. Less of a trend, mopre of a THING I guess. Just a thing that happened. I wonder why we’re afraid to say exactly what we mean with firm speech? Seems like there are the people who ARE and the people who AREN’T, you know, and the people who AREN’T are the people that end u p screwing up the confidence of the people who ARE.

    Aaand done.

    Wow. That didn’t turn out super well, but it is what it is. 🙂

    Any other takers?

  2. Lauren From Texas

    August 13, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Um, please write a book. That is all.

  3. James

    August 14, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Alright, you’ve got me curious. I’ll bite. Five minutes on “what my handwriting says about me”.


    I’ve been noticing my handwrigint ohhh boy, it’s late and I’,m going to be misspeeling everything like I was freaking drunk. As I was saying, I have been noticing my HANDWRITING as of late, being as I use it everyday in a very swift fashion when signing things at work. Don’t ask me to go into detail about work, it’s really not that interesting okay you convinced me. I basically drie aroud in a little truck that takes me up with the forklifts attached to the back and pick down boxes of various sizes and weights. You never really know what some boxes are going to weigh, so it’s kind of like Christmas, except the only present is pain for your back. The rest is even less interesting, so back to my handwriting. I find the times I enjoy writing most is when my writing is so fluid as to be illegible. It’s those times when you just can’t pick up the pencil enough because the words are flying out too fast so all the letters get these little tails and start to seem wispy. Those are the times I like my handwriting the most. I think that says I’m a bit too head-in-the-clouds to be using a pencil and paper. I don’t do much better with a keyboard either though. No, that’s not right. I think it means, like everyone else, my mind moves fifity times faster than my stupid fingers, and half the times when they try to catch up they screw things up royally. Take right now: I know Jessica said no deletions, but I can’t help it: I’m absolutely trained to just reach my pinky up to that delete key. I’m not even entirely conscious of it anymore. And I use way too many colons. Colon. Hah.

    Woooooo. I haven’t free-written in forever. And yes, I really was using the delete key, but only so this thing would be readable, instead of gobbledygook.

    I think I might have to do that more often. Thanks for suggesting it!

  4. Kitty

    August 14, 2009 at 2:06 am

    On the way out the door, but I LOVE free writing. It can make a big difference. 🙂

  5. Jacob Peterson

    August 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I like it 😉

  6. knowoneyouknow

    July 6, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I’ll go next… a year late, but none the less. Keep in mind I’m new to writing and have never done this exercise before *yikes*

    What’s the earliest thing I can remember?

    Sunday. After church. 3 years old. Van full of groceries, helping mom bring them in. hot day. I grab a gallon of cooold milk. Very heavy. Very cold . I am fucking determined though. It slips but I grab it and I do not let it fall to the dirty ground. It takes me forever. From the van to the door. Mom has grabbed a camera. Snap shot. Cold cold milk. Heavy. My back hurts. My fingers hurt. I don’t let up. It’s in the door. I set it on a stair. Climb one stair. I set it on the next. I climb the next. After repeating this on every stair I am finally in the kitchen and I haul it up to a chair. Damn that was fucking hard. Why do I try so hard to please her? Why do I cause myself so much pain to please her? Next earliest: 3 years old again. Bro and I are outside playing in the warm sunshine in the grass. Pleasant, fun. Something happens. He calls me “poopy-face”. So I call him “poopy-face” mom hears us and screams for us to go wash our mouths out with soap. Wtf? “poopy-face” is a bad word? Jesus fucking Christ, soap?! My bro and I go inside like good little soldiers. He goes first. He licks the soap (no parental supervision – yet we obey anyway??!!) he licks the soap and then rinses his mouth out with water. He says “don’t tell mom I used water to rinse it out” I lick the soap. I am too good of an obedient little soldier to use water. That is against the rules. He broke a rule. I am a good little girl and I should not say poopyface. Today I curse like a sailor. I shouldn’t b/c it’s crass and unprofessional, but I do it.

    I am done. Whew, that was fun. Thanks for the opp.

  7. knowoneyouknow

    July 7, 2010 at 8:21 am

    uh, yeah…. I think that perhaps I should have done the first few sessions in the privacy of my own computer before “publicly” free writing about “earliest memeories”. Sorry for any dirty laundry that may have crept in there. There’s no *delete* button on this end, but if you have one there Jess, feel free.

    I still think poopy-face is funny though…

    now let’s free-write about pops. outta be some stinky stuff in there 😉


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