Saturday 7 May 2011

How to Boost Your Creativity with Freewriting

Today, as my first ever guest blogger, I have the privilege of introducing self-publishing guru, Joel Friedlander (right), who teaches us about the valuable skill of free writing. And here's Joel... 

How to Boost Your Creativity with Freewriting
by Joel Friedlander

Several years ago while looking for activities we could do together, my wife and I joined a writing workshop.

This wasn't your ordinary writing workshop however, where people bring pieces they've written to get critiques or suggestions on how to make their work better or more attractive to publishers.

The entire practice of the workshop was learning and practicing something the teacher called freewriting.

I had never heard of free writing, have you? Since I had paid a fee for the course, I knew it wasn't going to be "writing for free" but I had no idea what was involved.

Freewriting, as I came to learn, is a specific writing practice used by many writers. It's actually both simple to describe, easy to get started at, yet remarkable in its effects and profound in its implications.

How to Freewrite

Freewriting is simple. You'll need whatever you like to write with and a timer. Here's how to get started:

Set your timer—start with 5 minutes or 10 minutes, you can't go wrong here, so pick one.

Pick a prompt—this can be almost anything, but common writing prompts are like ones you’ll find in the wonderful writing books by Natalie. For instance, one I use often is the prompt "I remember..." Another that works well is, "It began ..." You can also use non-verbal prompts, but start with these or similar ones to get going.

Okay, you've got your timer set and your prompt written at the top of the page. When you're ready, take a deep breath to center yourself for your task, let the timer start and begin writing.

Once you start writing, the idea is to write as fast as you can, and to not lift your pen from the page until the timer goes off.

You don’t judge what you are writing, and you don’t try to control it. Your aim is to watch and see what comes out.

If you can write a bit faster than you can think, that's perfect. If you draw a blank and no words come, start writing the prompt again and just keep writing until more words come, because they will.

What Happens in Freewriting

If you try this, I guarantee you'll be surprised at what happens. At the workshop, stories from my past spontaneously rose to the surface, flowing out onto the page. Sometimes the words were fragments or just glimpses of a scene, sometimes they were nonsense, some kind of cross-wiring as my brain tried to keep up the flow of words.

Sometimes they were beautiful images, startling word choices, things that I had no intention of writing but which simply seemed like they were expressing themselves through me.

Over the next two years I kept freewriting every day. I got better at finding prompts, and started a group to freewrite together. Because most of the pieces we were writing were short, we would take turns reading after the timer went off.

What Makes it Work

Here's the secret that makes freewriting work: this is not finished writing like you’re used to. It's more of a direct access to your subconscious. You may find yourself writing surprising things, or violent images, or things that don't make sense to your logical mind, and that's okay.

The secret is that in freewriting we give ourselves permission to write perfectly awful first drafts. We don't judge or criticize or critique the writing in any way. Instead we treat it as raw material, like mining for gold. You're bound to come up with a lot of junk, but there will be gems also.

The effect of giving myself permission to let anything that wanted to come out do so was unbelievably liberating. The idea of a writer's "block" became nonsensical. There is no block in the unconscious mind, it just keeps churning.

This practice has lead me down many other roads. I have a novel that's taking shape from dozens of freewriting sessions. I started a blog where I post an article every day of about 1,000 words. I just published A Self-Publisher's Companion, a book that I hope will be of help to people thinking about getting involved with self-publishing.

I couldn't have done any of this if I hadn't learned and practiced freewriting.

If you're looking for a way to generate new material, to find subjects that may have eluded you, to give yourself a creative jolt, give freewriting a try.

If you'd like more guidance, there's a PDF instruction sheet you can download here: How to Freewrite. Or pick up "Writing Down the Bones" or one of Natalie Goldberg's other books, where she provides many prompts and tells about her own writing practice, which seems like a variation on the freewriting I've described here. You'll be glad you gave it a try.

Even if you only use freewriting to get you "warmed up" for a writing session, it's going to enhance your creativity. And that's a good thing.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he's helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.
I've read Joel's book "A Self-Publisher's Companion" and can highly recommend it, as it's full of practical tips and motivational wisdom. Read my 5* review CLICK HERE.

Joel, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us!


CA Heaven said...

Cool. I'm gonna try this. Just need to decide if I'm gonna write in Winterlandic or in English >:)

Cold As Heaven

Judith Mercado said...

Joel Friedlander has just described the first draft of everything I write, except for the timer.

JFBookman said...

Thanks for hosting me here, Judy. It was really fun to switch gears a bit and write about writing.

Frances Garrood said...

This sounds such a good idea! Thanks so much, Joel (and Judy, for posting).

Anita said...

As part of my job, I talk to school teachers and parents about writing. I always ask them to give their kids time to freewrite...I think kids have to put away all the writing rules sometimes, and reach out for their creativity.

Thank you, Judy and Joel, for this post!

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

COLD: As freewriting should allow you to tap into your subconscious, I’d say use Winterlandic, your Mother tongue. Even though you’re so natural at English, I would imagine on some deep level there is the need for your brain to engage in a translation and, to be effective, freewriting needs to be, well, freed from the mind.

JUDITH: On a writing course I recently completed, I discovered the joys of freewriting, and I had to use a timer. It’s a good tool, because it forces you to get up, give your brain a breather and start the next session of freewriting fresh. I found I work best in 20-30 minute bursts.

JOEL: It’s a pleasure having you here, and I’m glad you had fun!

FRANCES: The article is full of good ideas. It’s also prompted me to read the Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down to the Bones” which I’ve had on my to-be-read shelf for ages.

ANITA: Kids are probably brilliant at freewriting – the mental controls over their subconscious may be much looser than that of an adult. I sometimes wonder if that’s why so many great male authors (Hemingway & Coleridge spring to mind) had addiction issues; it allowed them to escape the chains of their conscious minds and dig deep into their sub-conscious. I wonder if my addiction to chocolate would help me?

Lauri said...

I went to a workshop at CTBF last year that did something very similar to this and it's quite amazing what you come up with.

A Cuban In London said...

Freewriting is much underrated, I'm afraid. So, thanks a mill for your post.

I arrived at freewriting via theatre. I was part of a drama group in my uni and we did impro, so Joel writes "this is not finished writing like you’re used to. It's more of a direct access to your subconscious", I agree with him wholeheartedly.

Many thanks to you and Joel. This was a gem of a post.

Off topi, though. Interesting comment about 'Sex and Lucia'. I didn't like it. I thought the sex scenes were gratuitous and found Medem's obession with penises quite annoying.

Yet, my reaction was based on what I know about the director and the fact that I used to be a fan of his films. If I'd come to the movie without any preconceptions, as you did, I'm sure I would have found it as least, intriguing. So, I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Greetings from London.

A Cuban In London said...

'Topic'. I meant 'topic'. Sorry. :-)

Greetings from London.

Claire Robyns said...

From the way my kids tell me, it sounds like they do a lot of freewriting at primary school level - they call it creative writing, of course, but generally they're given a prompt (except, I suppose, the whole class gets the same prompt) and they take it away from there. I've read some of my kids' results and their imaginations wow me.

For myself, the idea of freewriting is a little scary, maybea I'm horrified by what I might come up with, lol. But definitely something to try out when my muse is feeling a little dull.

Thanks for the great post

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

LAURI: Freewriting does produce some amazing results! And (take note, everyone!) CONGRATULATIONS once again on being shortlisted for the highly prestigious 2011 Caine Literary Prize! We're so proud of you!!

CUBAN: Yes, that's a great analogy - freewriting is like dance improvisation, or jazz musicians just letting rip! Also off topic, I only gave Lucia a 3 star review because, despite some good points to the movie, I did have some issues with it.

CLAIRE: I wonder when we, as adults, loose that wonderful ability children have of letting their imaginations run wild? I also find freewriting scary, but it has produced some of my best pieces.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. similar to the Toastmasters idea of talking about a subject chosen at random - always made me shrink .. not to say I did many Toastmasters .. but the concept can easily apply to writing as Joel suggests .. and not I'm must more open and flexible in my thoughts that when I have commented given some prompts - they've come quite easily.

Interesting .. perhaps I should get my timer out and give it a try .. thanks for hosting Joel .. cheers to you both - Hilary

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

HILARY: Yes, when I did Toastmasters years ago I simply *dreaded* the impromptu speeches! A minute has never seemed so long! Yet, I loved the prepared speeches. And you're correct: the feeling I get free writing is as scary as those Toastmaster impromptu sessions!