Free writing is an exercise designed to stimulate writing. It is not related to freethinking although they sound the same. I use this exercise from time to time when I have a hard time coming up with something to write about. The idea is to write whatever comes to your head, without stopping, filtering or editing.
Well, that’s the idea, but I find it very hard to turn off my inner editor. Some of these sentences went through 2 or 3 revisions before I even completed them (including this one). Many people do not realize this but writing — or at least, good writing — is often a two-step process. Sometimes, it is even a three, four or five-step process. The first step consists of writing the first draft. The second step (and onwards) consists of revising and editing.
The point of free-writing is for you to come up with enough material for your first draft so that you have something to revise. After all, it is quite difficult to edit a blank page. The great artist, Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” However, it is quite difficult to create a statue if all you have is a pebble, or worse, thin air.
In the same manner, I believe that every block of text contains a bestseller or a Pulitzer-prize winner, or at least something memorable and meaningful. The task of the writer is to shape it as such. As with the pebble, It is quite difficult to shape only a few words — unless of course you are meaning to write short poetry, haiku, or the like — and even then those skilled in that art will tell you it is not an easy task to write them. Since one does not have the luxury of hundreds of words to make a point, then every word must count. Each word must be the right word. Some poets even labor over whether to put a comma or not.
I digress, but then that happens a lot in free writing. You just have to keep going and going. Yet, you need not be stuck with any material you don’t like. You can delete entire paragraphs if you want. You can delete the whole piece if you want and start over with an idea you got while typing the last paragraph of the first draft that you free-wrote.
The beauty of free writing is that it is very possible to generate a large amount of material in a short amount of time. That is, if you do it right. If you’re like me, however, who tends to mix editing and revising along with writing, then it will possibly take longer, but you spend less time on final revisions since you have already done most of the work anyway.
The danger of doing what I do, however, is getting stuck. You now have an idea of where you want the article or story to go but you become obsessed with perfecting it, with using the right words. Sometimes, that will cause you to just stare at the screen and think, until you realize that an hour has passed and you still haven’t progressed. That actually defeats the purpose of free writing in the first place.
So when I catch myself pausing for a long time, I just force myself to type on. I mutter things like, “Press on. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The battle is won by winning each war and each sentence you write is a war won.” And so on and so forth.
And then comes the magic. You type a word at the end of the line and your word processor automatically bumps you to the next page. You can hear angels (or Hell’s Angels, whichever you prefer) singing.
You have now reached the second page.
Of course you do a quick check to make sure that you haven’t cheated (like typing in double-space, or things like that). Sometimes, this experience is enough encouragement for some to just keep going and going, like runners getting a second wind.
However, don’t get too carried away. It’s not the length of your article that’s important but also its substance and value. Remember to revise and rewrite as necessary, and cut away anything irrelevant. Be a cruel and merciless editor of your own work. Your readers will thank you for it.
Samuel Johnson said, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”
So, do use free writing as a technique but remember to review and revise your work to make it meaningful and a pleasurable read.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.