Being a writer necessitates a love of words and, by extension, a delight in sentences. There is a depthless delight in tinkering with a sentence; sliding vocabulary around, the cheekiness of a slightly shifted comma. The ruthless thrill of cutting out words, reducing a mistaken work of art into a sharp slice of perfection.
The satisfaction which can be plumbed by plugging time into teasing the potential out of a single sentence is virtually limitless. However, one of the most useful exercises you can do to warm up the writing muscles and hone your skill consists of taking the exact opposite approach. This approach is called freewriting.
If you’ve ever found it difficult to be productive because you’re overthinking, or haven’t been able to get started, or can’t decide on a direction, then freewriting is for you. Never had any of those problems? Freewriting can still help you improve your craft, so keep reading. Freewriting allows you to turn your brain off and write from an instinctual place, to get at the very core of who you are as a writer. It can feel a little awkward at first and usually requires some practice but this is nothing compared to the rush you’ll feel as the words start to pour out onto the page of their own accord.
You can approach freewriting like you might approach getting in shape. Start yourself off with five minutes at a time, increasing the interval as you get more and more hooked - fair warning, there’s a good chance you’ll get hooked! Freewriting is simple enough to learn and so effective that even well known and successful authors include it in their routines.
Here’s how you do it:
Sit down and get ready with your writing materials. Use a laptop only if you’re a fast touch typer. Otherwise, use a pen and notebook. I’m a fast typer but I still write longhand for freewriting exercises.
Set a timer and start writing. Don’t get in your own way. Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t pause, don’t edit, don’t reword. Keep your pen moving across the page constantly. Some writers will tell you not to lift the tip of the pen from the paper. If you lose your train of thought, change the subject and just keep writing.
That’s it. That’s it!
So, what should you write about? There are different schools of thought on this. Quintessentially, you could write about whatever pops into your head and just follow your train of thought as it bounces from idea to idea. If you’re blocked on what to start off with, write “I don’t know how to get started today” until your creative brain takes the reins. Or start writing about the first thing you see on your desk, or the last thing you heard on the news.
Alternatively, you could pick a writing prompt and freewrite with that. In my opinion, this is a little more advanced than the train of thought approach but the same rules apply: don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t think, don’t change things - write as fast as you can. If you can’t immediately think of the word you need, leave a space for it and keep going.
Finally, you could try freewriting a piece of your story. Perhaps you don’t know where to go with the story, or you have writer’s block. This takes the most practice to get good at. And if what you write turns out to need a serious edit… so what? I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you’ve shaken loose at least one great idea, plot point or luscious sentence.
I think we’ve all, at some point, entered that feverish writing nirvana where we can’t get the words on the page fast enough. Our imagination totally in control, it feels like we’re not so much writing a story, but rather frantically copying down something which already exists. Didn’t it feel amazing? You can train yourself to do that every day.
The last freewriting exercise I was given was this: Write about a place which affects you deeply. Write three sentences in the third person. Then write two sentences in the first person in which a character enters that place. Keep writing.
An outsider would find it filthy; wrinkling their nose at the stench and glancing, in disgust, as grime, sawdust and various slimes clung to whatever body part or item of clothing came in contact with a surface. An outsider wouldn’t close their eyes in rapture at the sweet aroma of fresh hay, sweat and citronella, their olfactory senses automatically filtering for this special bliss.
Those were the first two sentences I wrote, without thinking, without taking my pen off the page. My inner editor (she’s a hard woman) is already appraising them with a critical eye and hissing sibilant suggests to start cutting words out. You can’t publish that, she’s screaming. But on reflection, I’m thrilled to have subconsciously found a genuine and personal authenticity in my description. I’m inspired, I can work with this - I’m ready to write.
So what are you waiting for? Slip the leash on your inner writer and don’t stop until the buzzer sounds!
If you fancy a little extra incentive or a challenge, why not pop over to our Discord server and join in with a writing sprint. There’s nothing like a little friendly competition against the clock to really intensify your freewriting. See you over there!