What Is Freewriting?

How Writing Without Rules Can Help You Overcome Writer's Block

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When freewriting, advises Peter Elbow in Writing Without Teachers, "Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing.". Getty Images

In this article we consider how writing without rules can help us overcome writer's block.

If the prospect of having to write makes you uneasy, consider how one student has learned to cope with the problem:

When I hear the word "compose," I go berserk. How can I make something out of nothing? That's not to imply that I have nothing upstairs, just no special talent for organizing thoughts and putting them down on paper. So instead of "composing," I simply jot, jot, jot and scribble, scribble, scribble. Then I try to make sense of it all.

This practice of jotting and scribbling is called freewriting--that is, writing without rules. If you find yourself searching for a writing topic, start by jotting down the first thoughts that come to mind, no matter how trivial or disconnected they may appear. If you already have at least a general idea of what you will be writing about, put down your first thoughts on that subject.

How to Freewrite
For five minutes, write non-stop: don't lift your fingers from the keyboard or your pen from the page. Just keep writing. Don't stop to ponder or make corrections or look up a word's meaning in the dictionary. Just keep writing.

While you are freewriting, forget the rules of formal English. Because you are writing only for yourself at this point, you don't have to worry about sentence structures, spelling or punctuation, organization or clear connections. (All those things will come later.)

If you find yourself stuck for something to say, just keep repeating the last word you have written, or write, "I'm stuck, I'm stuck" until a fresh thought emerges.

After a few minutes, the results may not look pretty, but you will have started writing.

Using Your Freewriting
What should you do with your freewriting? Well, eventually you'll delete it or toss it away. But first read it over carefully to see if you can find a key word or phrase or maybe even a sentence or two that can be developed into a longer piece of writing.

Freewriting may not always give you specific material for a future essay, but it will help you get into the right frame of mind for writing.

Practicing Freewriting
Most people need to practice freewriting several times before they're able to make it work for them effectively. So be patient. Try freewriting as a regular exercise, perhaps three or four times a week, until you find that you can write without rules comfortably and productively.

 

NEXT: Freewriting to Discover a Topic for a Narrative Essay