The importance of free writing was instilled into me from the very start of my degree in creative writing. However, I really struggled with the concept. Even now, if you put me in an academic setting away from the safety of my sofa or writing room, I’d struggle.
I didn’t get into free writing until I started my full-time job. Suddenly not being able to write as and when I wanted to made me feel suffocated. I didn’t start free writing intentionally—and frankly I don’t enjoy calling it that—but I do enjoy writing without thinking. I end up in a trance-like state, where the only thing that matters is getting the next words on to the page.
Just like editing, proofreading, plotting, and character development, free writing is a skill. You need to treat it as such—you won’t get better at it without practice.
It’s through free writing—and the sense of self-trust that it creates—that I’ve been able to write as many as 1,000 words in 15 minutes, and up to 14,000 words in a day.
It really is that powerful.
But there’s more to free writing than just getting down the idea for your novel. It’s also used in counselling and therapy as a way of dealing with trauma. It can help you to deal with issues you can’t deal with in real life, and gives you somewhere to channel your nervous energy.
The psychological benefits of free writing
Some people compare free writing to meditating, and I can totally see this. You’re in a trance-like state where nothing matters but your writing.
When you’re free writing, you do it to get the story out of your system. When counsellors and psychologists recommend it, it’s done to get rid of pent-up emotions (usually anger). If you’re feeling pent-up emotions, why not combine the two? Pretend you’re one of your characters who’s angry at another character in your story, and run with it. Who knows where your characters will take you?
It’s good practice
When free writing, you do NOT edit. Many free writers don’t even fix grammatical issues. I’m not that strict—I can’t leave it if I spot it, and if I find a better word for something I’ll change it—but beyond that, I don’t edit. Any glaring holes I highlight for future reference, then go back to writing. That way, it doesn’t interrupt getting down the initial idea, which is the point of free writing.
You’ll have to edit the book later on anyway; why ruin the creative process by doing it now?
It exercises your creative muscles
You’re a writer. You’re inherently creative. By allowing yourself to free write for a period of time, you’re tapping into that creativity in a completely uncensored way. You’re flexing your creative muscles.
The more you flex those muscles, the stronger they’ll become.
When you start off lifting weights, you’ll only be able to manage a few kilos. The longer you lift weights for, and the more you practise, the stronger you’ll be.
Your writing muscles behave in exactly the same way.
You won’t get better at writing without practise.
There’s nothing that says you have to show the results of your free writing session to anyone. You don’t even have to keep it if you don’t want to (although I’d advise against this—you may find something you can use later on).
Just like you lift weights to increase your strength, you write to be a better writer. There’s no rule that says when and where you should show off your newfound strength/writing skills.
You learn to trust yourself
When free writing, ultimately, you’re training yourself to trust yourself.
Learning to trust yourself in that way is incredibly freeing, and, as mentioned above, it’s a skill that only comes with practise.
Getting that first draft down is the hardest part of the writing process. You have a lot more to think about than when you’re proofreading. But when you sit down and free write, you’re telling your subconscious that it has a good idea, and you’re happy for it to run with said idea.
This sense of trust in yourself eventually finds itself in other parts of your life, too. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference free writing can make in your life if you give it a shot!
Over to You
Do you find free writing useful? Do you struggle with it? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!
Last updated: 29/01/17