I was about to sit down and start working on a post about the benefits of writing exercises. Doing a simple free write, one that’s about 30 minutes, can vastly improve a writer’s work on multiple levels.
First, it helps generate ideas. Free writing is writing without stopping for a set amount of time. You find you have to keep going. It’s not easy, but if you pause, you’re supposed to just repeat the last word you’ve typed until a new thought pops into your head. Head. Head. Like that. This way, your brain and your brain storming are always working in one direction – forward.
Second, it gets you in the mood to write. Mood is a big thing with writers. We call it writer’s block, we call it Netflix being more appealing, but what it really is is a lack of want to write. Forcing yourself to write anything for 30 minutes or so, nonstop, gets your brain ready and raring to continue the writing process. A free write is a great way of beating writer’s block by not only generating ideas, but by changing your off mode into an on mode when it comes to getting your fingers on the keys.
Third, and yes, this is a pretty repetitive list because I am timing myself and trying to get this all out, out, out, out, out, out, is it gets your body in a physical place to write as well. I type fast, but even I don’t come pre-warmed up on the keyboard. Doing a 30 minute free write helps get my brain in keyboard mode so I can type up a storm. Sometimes, when I get really into what I’m writing, I can go up to 80-100 words per minute. Of course, there are still typos. I never said I was exempt from typos.
There are more benefits that I will come back to, possibly, if I recall them and time doesn’t run out, but I’d like to talk about why I’m illustrating what my 30 minute free write on the topic of 30 minute free writes. I think a lot of us hear about free writing in class or in a tutoring program like the one I work for, but we don’t really put them into use, or we do them for class because we are required to and never think about it again.
And, honestly, how many of us really sit there and repeat words when we’re stuck? We pause. We think. I’m forcing myself to follow the rules laid out in general for a free write so there will be some repeats here, but when I do this on my own I often won’t follow this rule, and I know it. But I should follow this rule because it’s there for a reason. Sometimes when your mind blanks and your fingers are on the keys typing “out, out, out,” a new thought pops into your head based on your previous writing. This is a good thing, go with it.
Free writes (and if you’re counting, this would be fourth) are also great for making connections within your writing that you might not even be aware that you are making. I repeated the word “out, out, out” above not just to illustrate one of my own repetitions in this exercise, but to show that I associated that pause in thought to the thought that came after it – while I was going “out, out, out” my mind settled on the physical body for my next statement. This means I was thinking not just out, but outward, the outside, out of my own head. That’s a comma splice, I think.
Also, grammar and spelling and typos and normal conventions don’t count during a free write, so don’t worry about the comma splices. Don’t go back and correct things. I’ve been working and typing on a computer off and on all day, so I might not have many errors here, but they will exist in your own writing. If I was writing this by hand instead of on the computer, it’d be riddled with errors, because I tend to think a lot faster than I write so I use a very, very sloppy shorthand that’s mostly just mispelled scribbles that I can’t read later. This is why I prefer to type.
Some people find that handwriting is better for their free writing, though, because the slower pace gives them time to think more thoroughly while they are writing. I just realized I misspelled misspell. That was not intentional. I always feel like I’m getting ready to spell Mississippi when I type misspelled. Those extra s’s are killer.
This is about 20 minutes for me. Again, I type fast, and I’m a writing tutor as well as an English major. I should also point out that I am a published poet. This sounds like bragging, but I just want to give you an idea of my personal ability to write really fucking fast. If your 30 minute free writing at this point isn’t 837 words long, according to the word count at the bottom of the editing screen in Word Press, then don’t sweat it.
That’s another great thing about a free write. It’s yours. You don’t have to share it, compare it, or even use it if it proves unusable. If anything, it will still be a great warm up exercise that gets your body and brain going for your writing task to come.
Come. Come. Come. Sometimes it is really hard to come up with the start of a new clause. I’ve been talking about the free write for a while now, but that’s the point of this post, so I don’t really want to switch topics, although, another point just popped into my head.
We’ll call this number five, or to follow the original formatting, the fifth point. Forcing yourself to write for 30 minutes not only helps you see what minor connections your brain makes to the words your choosing and how you think this writing project out, but it also helps you connect major ideas that you might not have otherwise thought of connecting, like playing the game 6 degrees of separation. I might be writing about writing, but somehow end up talking about Kevin Bacon. Stranger things have happened in one of my blog posts, I’m pretty sure.
I’m so close to done now. So close. I can’t just dwell on my ending, though. Free writes aren’t really about how they end – they’re about the process of getting all your thoughts out and into a physical (more physical than thought, at least) form that can be analyzed later.
So this is it. My timer is ticking down. I hope this post has been useful for you to not only see some of the elements of free writing that make it an important part of any writer’s writing process, but what a free write in itself looks like. I’ve taken 30 minutes, so now I’ll wish you ado.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.