What is Freewriting – And How Do You Use It?

writing penI first encountered the concept of freewriting in 1977 when I found Peter Elbow’s book, Writing without Teachers. Elbow, who had been a professor at MIT, presented this way of working on your writing that is at once simpler and more powerful than any other way I have found.

I’ve come to believe that most writer’s eventually figure out that in order to write well you have to learn to get out of your conscious mind in order to tap the creative flow. Freewriting helps you to do this. I’ve certainly used the technique extensively to evolve my own writing.

All you do is simply force yourself to write without stopping for ten minutes. If you get stuck you keep writing. Keep the pen moving until you break free. Sometimes you will produce good writing, sometimes you will produce garbage. The point is to keep writing. The goal is in the process, not the product.

It is the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all around practice in writing that I know. Freewriting gives practice in focusing, but-not-trying; it helps the conscious self to stand out of the way and let the words be chosen by the sequence of the words themselves or the thought.

The benefits are many: it helps with the existential difficulty of facing the blank piece of paper; it is the best way to learn to separate the creative process from the editorial process; it’s a good warm up; it helps you to learn to write when you don’t feel like writing; it teaches you to write without thinking; it’s a good outlet for clearing away preoccupations; it’s good for brainstorming; and it improves your writing by leading you to tap a true voice.

I started teaching writing workshops more than twenty years ago, where we freewrite for ten minutes and then share what we’ve written in a completely safe and supportive environment. Group members respond to what touches them, what rings true, what they want to hear more about or by parroting back a line that really strike them; all as a way of mirroring the writer’s voice and the potential of the piece

Freewriting allows you to write a tad faster than you can think which gives you access to the unconscious mind. When finished you rarely have any idea what you have written and your conscious mind armed with the critic and censor leads you to believe it’s no good. So receiving the mirroring feedback on what is working in your first draft helps you to learn how to do that for yourself.

I write and share with the group because I feel it only works if I’m willing to feel the same vulnerability as everyone else. I’m amazed year after year at the fine writing that emerges from all the different people who come to the workshops and how I can hear a writer’s voice evolve as they continue to work with this process.

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