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The Art of Freewriting

advice | copywriting | writing
book on a table

Freewriting. It sounds like some 60s hippy movement all about peace and love, doesn’t it? Not gonna lie, there’s something a little bit woo-woo about freewriting, as you’re about to find out. But, here’s the thing… this shit works. The art of freewriting is that there is no art to it. It’s an exercise in how to train your brain and your fingers to WRITE. It’s a method to get the words flowing, the ideas bubbling and have you producing all the beautiful words you need to. Keep reading, I’m going to show you exactly how it’s done.

book on a table

How is freewriting going to help me?

When it comes to writing, the hardest thing about it is STARTING. You know that. I bet you can cast your mind back to days gone by when you had to produce essays for school or university. How long did your pen hover over that first line in your notepad or the cursor blink on your blank screen? 

As a writer, even I get this sentiment. Starting is the hardest part of all, even when you’re doing it day in and day out for your work. 

The great thing about freewriting is that it is there to push you beyond that blinking cursor or hovering pen. It encourages you to push the words out of your head and onto your page, whatever they might be. 

I read an excellent article while I was researching writing this post that quoted Mark Levy, an author who wrote about the skill of freewriting. He says: “Freewriting is really a way of taking your mind and dropping it on to the paper and watching yourself think.” I love that description. It’s a visual way of seeing how your mind is working, as well as being an amazing way to simply get you writing!

Some history

Freewriting came to be known and thought of like that in the early 20th century. Before that, it was known as automatic writing and was a technique used by mediums channelling spirits from the other world. Scepticism aside, it’s fascinating to think that we could be channelling other-worldly beings. I’ve always wondered about those voices in my head!

However, I like Dorothea Brande’s description. She explains it as a method of returning to “the state of wide-eyed interest that was yours at the age of five” in her book, Becoming A Writer

The technique was developed into what we know as freewriting today by Peter Elbow in the 70s (so maybe there was a bit of that 60s vibe about it!). 

There are a whole ton of resources you can read about freewriting, but one of the most popular currently is Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

lamp, book and clock on a desk the art of freewriting

How to freewrite

Well, that’s enough about the why… let’s talk about how to freewrite, shall we?

#1: Gather Your Tools

I’m old school and will always advocate doing this with pen and paper first. It can be done with a computer and keyboard too if that’s your preference. You’ll also need something to time yourself with. Whatever you choose, have the tools ready at your disposal and plenty of space to write, without interruption or distraction.

Which brings me nicely to the second point…

#2: Remove Distractions

The point of this is to write completely freely, without interruptions. So, turn off or silence your phone (or at least switch off notifications if you’re using it as your timer device!). Shut down social media and calendar notifications on your computer if you’re freetyping. And if you’re not home alone, tell people what you’re doing and that you need silence and no interruptions before you close the door on them. Turn off the TV or radio. Get yourself in “the zone”.

#3: Set Boundaries

In the case of freewriting, this is either a time or a page limit. Either way works, so go with whatever your preference is. 

I prefer to go with a time limit. When you first start with freewriting, I would suggest choosing a short time limit as 30 minutes can be quite daunting. Try for 2, 3 or 5 minutes to start with until you feel less overwhelmed by the task. You’d be surprised how much you can write in that time without any distractions!

#4: Pick A Prompt (or don’t!)

Some people find choosing a prompt to start the freewriting ball rolling quite helpful. It can be a word. Or a phrase. Or a question. Whatever you choose, don’t feel that everything you write has to be centred around it. Use it as a springboard if you’re not sure where to start or what to write about.

#5: And Write!

Set your timer, gather your tools and GO! The point is to keep writing for the entire time. No stopping. No going back to read what you’ve written. No scribbling words out and changing them. No fixing spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. No editing of any kind. I find the easiest way for me is to not focus on the words I’m writing at all. I allow the page in front of me to blur and I focus, instead, on not taking my pen off the page. Consider it a “stream of consciousness” and write whatever pops into your head. Keep going until the timer tells you it’s time to stop or you’ve written the number of pages you’d decided upon.

That’s it!

notebook and pen on desk with succulent

Things To Remember

  • You can read back over what you’ve written afterwards if you’d like. Just don’t expect what you’ve written to make much sense!
  • Don’t critique what you’ve written. This isn’t about whether what you’ve written is any good. It’s about getting the words flowing in the first place. Besides, no one needs to see what you’ve written except you!
  • This is not about your skill as a writer. It’s not about whether you can spell correctly or use the right grammar or syntax. It’s a judgement-free space just to write. So don’t try and correct yourself as you go. Nothing stilts creativity more than self-editing and we all do it, all the time, without even realising it.
  • Consider freewriting as being a form of exercise. It’s about stretching those muscles you use for writing (i.e. your brain and your hands) before you start your workout. Letting any old words flow helps to get the words moving. You might even find it sparks an idea or two as you expunge all those words onto the page. Or you might discover a gem nestled in amongst the crazy scrawl as you read back over it. If so, grab that idea or that gem and pop it in your ideas bucket immediately!
  • If you don’t know what to write, that’s ok. Write that. And write it again. And again. Until something else comes. The point is not to think about what you’re writing too much. It’s just that you WRITE. Anything. I find the best way to freewrite is to let my mind wander, to not even focus my eyes on the page as I write. I let it go all blurry and keep scribbling until my timer goes off.

Should I Freewrite If I’m Not A Writer?

Absolutely!

Freewriting isn’t just an exercise for writers. It works for business owners too. Don’t forget, you need to find words for your business regularly (especially if you’re not paying someone like me to write them for you!). Blog posts, website copy, social media captions and so on. Those words don’t come out of the blue.

But not only that. Freewriting helps ideas to flow. I’ve come up with some of my favourite business ideas when I’ve been freewriting. It’s how I’ve come up with ideas for blog posts. Or lead magnets. Facebook Lives and workflows I’ve put together in my business have all stemmed from freewriting sessions.

Don’t believe me? Check out this awesome post over on Hubspot about how freewriting increases productivity in your business!

One Final Thing About The Art Of Freewriting…

This is not a one-time exercise, folks. Like any other form of exercise, you need to keep doing it. You need to keep stretching and working the muscles or they atrophy, am I right? (I say this begrudgingly because that means I have to keep going to the gym – grumble, grumble.) It’s not an exercise you HAVE to do every day, despite what the experts might recommend, though. If that feels like too much of a struggle, aim for a couple of times a week, or a few times a month. Do what feels right for you. But do keep doing it!

Freewriting got you ready to tackle your home page copy? Why not grab my free Home Page Copy Review to help you get your most important page working better for your business?