Free-Writing: The Secret of All Successful Writers

Quill Pen and Inkwell

When the words do not flow or the blank screen stares back at you, mockingly, one of the finest secrets of all to loosen your language and liberate your prose is to use this writing technique. “Whatever exercise you need to do to keep healthy and fit for your body, this is a thing you do to stay fit with your writing,” says writer and writing coach, Christina Cha.

“Its a practice you come to brand new every time. Free-writing is a really good stretch, or yoga. It unkinks the mind. If the inner critic is yelling at you, keep free-writing and it will fade. The unhelpful thoughts and even the helpful thoughts like the to-do lists will be left behind.”

When the Words Do Not Come

If our words refuse to flow or whatever you write seems silly or flat, alleviate this with a swift writing prompt and free-write. “I make time for writing and handle resistance by using ten-minute timed writing exercises. I choose one of Sarah Selecky’s tweet prompts and set the timer on my phone,” says Christina Cha.

“By the time I hear the alarm, I have either written at least one decent sentence or, at best, I have become lost in writing and the alarm has made me jump and I jab angrily at the snooze prompt, irritated at being interrupted. From here I can create hours to write where before I thought I was too tired.”

Do Not Judge, Keep Writing

Quill pen and glass ink bottle

“The aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel,” says author of the wonderful, ‘Writing Down the Bones’Natalie Goldberg.

“It’s a great opportunity to capture the oddities of your mind. Explore the rugged edge of thought. Like grating a carrot, give the paper the colourful coleslaw of your consciousness.” To make your writing more lucid and authentic too, pay attention to the images that come to you but do not judge them, or your writing. Simply keep your pen moving, and the conduit open.

When you get out of your own way and simply write, you transcend all that catches you, your inner critic, your doubt, it all drops away, with you, in the moment, doing what you love most: writing, writing freely, in fact.

The Rules of Free-Writing

Here are the ‘rules’ for capturing your first thoughts and writing in a notebook, excerpted from “First Thoughts” in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg):

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread what you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
  2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

You want to break open your writing, unleash it, let it live. Do not constrict your creativity by stopping to edit or tweak it, that comes later. For now you let it be as wild as it wants to be. Trust that the images and words will come, they do, and keep your hand moving. Setting a timer can help as you then also liberate yourself from watching the clock.

Keep a Notebook for Free-Writing

Vintage Key and a Leather Notebook

Keeping a notebook is one of the finest ways of all to help generate more ideas on everything in your creative life but one filled with free-writes is a resource you’ll return to again and again. It’s a source of inspiration as well as offer confirmation of you, as a writer, bringing you confidence, insight, and motivation too to keep writing.

The simple but powerful practice of writing every day, no matter how humbly, also means that you are collecting a body of work. Having a notebook that is entirely dedicated to your free-writing is a gift you give to your writing, and a valuable tool and touchstone. For essays and articles, characters and settings that come to you, inspirations for individual scenes to entire plots.

“This is your equipment, like hammer and nails to a carpenter. Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay,” says Natalie Goldberg.

“Give yourself a lot of space in which to explore writing. A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another. Also, it is easy to carry. Try out different kinds. In the end, it must work for you. The size of your notebook matters too. A small notebook can be kept in your pocket, but then you have small thoughts. That’s okay.”

Carry Your Notebook Everywhere

Allow your ideas to descend and write them down in your notebook. There can be nothing more frustrating than letting inspirations slip away. Read them back to yourself to restore the vibrancy in your original inspirations when you write. There’s power in your first thoughts, and having a record of them fused with regular free-writes is a superb source of creativity for your writing.

Whenever you feel a little lost or a little disenchanted by the project, refer to this notebook. Restore your thirst for your literary travels and renew your love for the protagonist’s journey by reading your original inspirations. Carry it everywhere. If your passion wavers, refer to it. If you have a seed of an idea, do a free-write on it.

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