Writing Hacks: Freewriting

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s creative writing.

If you want to write, but find it intimidating, freewriting may be a good way in.

Freewriting can give you permission to sidestep much of the anxiety about starting to write. Freewriting is all about getting the words going — even if they’re incoherent, strange, or (seemingly) boring.

With practice, freewriting can get you into a flow state that will help you find your unique relationship to language, the content you’re most passionate about, and loosen you up to help with first drafts — and that’s a great path to finding your voice as a writer.

Freewriting has many different styles. Here’s what;s worked for me:

  • Set a timer. Go with what you’re comfortable with. 60 seconds is fine, 5 minutes can help you go a bit deeper. 20 minutes or more can be challenging, so maybe work your way up to longer freewrites.
  • Start with a prompt and write for the entire time. Useful prompts are often provocative, but always open ended. “I remember…” is a good one. Here are 500 more writing prompts.
  • While the timer is going, keep the pen moving or the keyboard clicking.
  • Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or making sense or being interesting or being inappropriate.
  • Whatever comes out if fine, even if it’s something like: ““Trees blue canned peaches aluminum flash puppy sculpt blue blue aching and not splat.”
  • If you’re lost for words, write the prompt over and over again: “I remember I remember I remember” and you may find that something will happen.
  • Write bad. Write ugly. Write ridiculous. Just keep writing.
  • When the timer goes off, stop.
  • Throw it away! Or…

I you feel like it, a handy follow-up might be to read through what you’ve written. Sometimes you’ll find a phrase or image or memory or group of words that seem to have a charge, or that you find particularly interesting or beautiful. If you find anything like that, circle the words. That might be the seed for something else, or may be an example of your growing voice as a writer.

For more on freewriting, check out the amazing work of Natalie Goldberg.

Enjoy your freewrite!

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