At one time or another, we all find ourselves thinking the same thoughts over and over again. The more we think them, the less fresh and interesting these thoughts become. This can dull our poetry blades significantly. When you want to leave the well-traveled path of your routine thinking for the adventure of an unknown destination, freewriting can take you there.
Freewriting is a way of training yourself to receive and transmit fresh ideas automatically. Just as your body knows how to breathe without conscious effort, your mind knows how to channel inspiration without you thinking about it. But first you may need to break some bad habits that interfere with your ability to send and receive. The goal of freewriting is to move from conscious, deliberate writing to automatic, subconscious writing. Freewriting can liberate you from the ideas of who you are supposed to be on the page and what your writing is supposed to accomplish.
The mechanics of freewriting are simple: Choose a time limit, put your pen to the page or your hands on the keyboard, and don’t stop until your time is up. You can start with any thought or phrase. Don’t try too hard to choose your subject matter; it will choose you. And don’t worry about the quality of what you’re writing. The most important thing is to keep going, even if you have to write the same sentence over and over again until something new arrives.
As the rhythm of a train can rock you to sleep, the rhythm of your writing can lull your conscious mind into silence. Staying in motion creates a physical momentum that releases you from your habits of judging your writing and your ideas, thus giving you access to the raw, buried treasures of your mind. At its best, freewriting gives you yourself, unedited. You gain visibility into the themes, words, colors, and stories that pool up at the back of your mind as they spill forth onto the page.
Think of freewriting as a lightning rod attuning you to the currents coming through. And be careful not to confuse this practice with journal writing. Journals are for recording and examining your thoughts, feelings, and experiences; the goal of freewriting is to sidestep self-conscious self-scrutiny to find what is most alive in your mind.
*This excerpt is from Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen.
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Tip of the Day, Creative Writing Tips
Many writing instructors use a freewriting exercise at the beginning of each class. It's a way of getting the brain in gear, and it's an exercise you can do on your own, safe to try in your own home. (We provide an interactive page for this exercise, see below.) Write down a topic at the top of that empty page. It can be either a one-word topic like "Dentists," for example or a brief statement of the topic you've chosen or been given to write about. Set the clock for five to ten minutes and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and go at it. Write as fast as you can; the faster the better. You are not allowed to stop writing! If you can't think of anything to say, write down that you can't think of anything to say, something like: "I'm stuck but I'll think of something soon." Don't stop. Don't worry about transitions or connecting the ideas or paragraphing or subject-verb agreement or even commas. And form absolutely no judgment about what you write. Your Censor is on vacation. Your writing may take you in some really weird directions, but don't stop and never think to yourself, "Oh, this is dumb!" If you get off the subject, that's all right. Your divagation may end up somewhere wonderful. Just keep writing. Do not criticize yourself and do not cut or scratch out or revise in any way. Many instructors suggest that at the end of the timed period, you should write one sentence IN ALL CAPS that takes you back to where you started something to do with dentists.
It's probably a good idea to read your freewriting out loud when you're done with it. Often the ear will pick up some pattern or neat idea that you hadn't noticed even as you wrote it. Read your freewriting to a friend or have your friend read it out to you. Your friend might think you're insane, but that's all right. Then it's time to spend just a couple of minutes going through the freewriting with an aim toward casual rewriting. The word-processor is a big advantage here. Delete the "I can't think of anything to say" lines and the pure nonsense. Are any ideas or patterns emerging?
Don't give up on freewriting after one exercise. Many students think that it's boring or stupid at first and come to love it after a week or so of exercises. Freewriting is like any other kind of mental activity: you will get better at it. The first couple of times you try it, perhaps nothing will come of it. After a few efforts, though, the exercise will become liberating. Just as you would never start to play tennis or jog without stretching a bit first, you will never try to write again without doing a bit of freewriting first. Sometimes, even in the middle of an essay, when stuck for the next idea, you can do a bit of freewriting to get you going again.
Here's a five-minute example of free-writing on the subject of dentists written by an older student, Thruston Parry, who has given us permission to use his work:
DENTISTSI hate going to the dentist. I'm always afraid that they're going to hurt me, and I'm not very good at pain, at tolerating pain, I mean. I remember the first time,w hen I was a kid, going to the dentists, it seemed I never went to the dentist when I was a kid until I had a toothache, that's my parents fault, isn't it, I guess. They should have taken better care of my teeth when I was little, and then I wouldn't have so much grief now with my teeth. But back then I would go to the dentists and he would have this godawful drill that would make this awful noise and it seemed like it always hurt. I remember there was this sign in his office that said PAINLESS DENTIST, UPSTAIRS, but there was no upstairs in his building. Some joke, huh? I can't think of anything to say, and I can't think of anything more to say. Oh, I wonder how come anyone in his right might mind would ever want to become a dentist, putting his fingers into other people's mouths all day, all that spit and blood and not there's the fear of getting AIDS from your clients that they have to wear those rubber gloves and I hate the feel of those things in my mouth, too, and the sound of that thing that draws the spit out of your mouth. I wonder why my folks didn't take me to the dentist BEFORE i had trouble. Probably because when they were growing up it was bad times and they didn't have any money for things like the dentist and it was just taken for granted that you were going to get cavieties and lose a lot of teeth before you were even an adult. I can't think of anything more to say. I can't think of anything more to say. all I know is that when I have kids, they're going to the dentist every six months whether they want to or not and maybe by then they'll have invented some way to absolutely prevent cavities and maybe there won't even be any dentists or if there are it'll just be to clean your teeth and make sure they're straight and pearly white and we won't worry about cavities and stuff like that that causes pain anymore. DENTISTS, MY ATTITUDE HAS CHANGED AS I GOT OLDER.
Looking back over this paragraph, do you see any ideas that might lend themselves toward an essay on dentists or at least the beginnings of one? Why would one want to become a dentist? or some other "unpleasant" line of medical work (even worse than dentistry)? How have attitudes toward going to the dentist changed over the years? Will better toothpastes, etc. eventually make dentists obsolete? How do dentists cope with the threat of AIDS? Is it a real threat?
Click HERE for a blank text-area, complete with automatic line-wrapping and ten-minute timer, where you can practice, online, your own freewriting. You might have to click in the upper left-hand corner of the text-area to make your typing cursor appear. When the ten-minute period expires, the page disappears, but you can get back to it by clicking on your browser's BACK button. Also, you can erase your text by clicking on the button at the bottom of the text-area. Use the following hyperlinks if you prefer an Eight-Minute Timer or a Five-Minute Timer or an Untimed Exercise.an excellent paper on the uses of freewriting in college English courses, was written by Wendy Major. Her paper, written for the English Department of Texas Tech University, contains an extensive bibliography on freewriting and other such techniques. It is reproduced here with the permission of Dr. Fred Kemp, Director of Composition at Texas Tech University.