Free-writing (or automatic writing) is something that you may have done before without really realising what it is, or is something that you might read about in this here article and think, “Huh, that’s pretty cool, I’m going to try it!”
(Slightly off topic, but personally I prefer the words “free-writing” to “automatic writing” which makes it sound as if you are a kind of robot, in my mind. Either way, try googling both. I think the more academic approach is automatic writing, but both are correct. Doing a little bit of internet research, I have also found that ‘automatic writing’ is a term used to help communicate with spirit guides, so it’s up to you what terms you use when googling yourself. 🙂 )
Free-writing is basically when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and you just don’t stop writing. There are a few rules to free-writing:
- No editing. No crossing out, if you’re writing by pen (although I am honestly terrible for this). Don’t worry about typos or misspellings, bad grammar, or anything else that you would otherwise go back and change mid-write.
- No stopping. Not until the end of your free-writing experiment, obviously.
- Don’t pause for thought or try to get good phrasing.
- You’re totally fine to go completely off topic or write rubbish.
Free-writing is a great warm-up exercise, and now that we’ve got the rules out of the way, here’s what you need to do.
Personally, I use things like picture prompts on Pinterest, or my sets of Rory’s Storycubes to get a basic idea. I’ll write some other prompts below, but feel free to make up your own (and comment them here!). Once you have some sort of a prompt (NO PLANNING and don’t think too much about it!) then you can start to write!
Get up a blank page or blank Word document (oh, I should probably have said – this doesn’t come into your novel/current work, this is something separate and will probably never see the light of day so don’t worry about it too much!). Set your timer for 5 – 15 minutes, depending on how much you want to write (I tend to go for between 5 – 10 depending on how “ready” I feel to write). Start your timer, and start writing. Don’t check back at your timer until it goes off, and when it does you stop writing!
You’ll feel much more limbered up, you might even have an ace story idea, but most of all you will feel like you’ve achieved something and you’re ready to go!
Free-writing is something I’ve been doing for some time, just setting my timer for 5 minutes and writing for some prompts. The time pressure gives a neat sense of adrenaline and you can get some stuff written because the rules say that there’s no worries about making sure it’s perfect.
Now that you know what to do, here’s some tips, and then some prompts:
- If you’re writing on paper, try using a slippery pen. Handwriting isn’t an issue, so don’t worry if it’s mostly illegible. I like slippery pens anyway but sometimes if you use a biro for example and it gets stuck more easily on the paper it can be annoying.
- Empty your mind. I suppose this is a type of meditation, but if you’re thinking, “What happens next, what happens next,” then the free-writing exercise isn’t really working. If it starts a new story, then great! But otherwise try just to focus on the immediate word and make immediate decisions to what you write next.
- Have fun! Don’t put yourself under too much pressure to be perfect.
- Choose someone you know very well. In 2nd person, write about what they are doing at this very moment in time (this was the one my creative writing instructor set. It was interesting but difficult and I didn’t particularly like it (it felt too intrusive to be doing it about someone I know very well – perhaps you could pick a character if you feel like I do!)).
- Write a stream of consciousness. Literally write down everything that comes into your head. Don’t censor any sexual, negative or downright scary thoughts (remember that unless you purposefully show someone, no one else is going to read this). This might make you feel a bit tired afterwards if you, for example, are feeling rather anxious but it might be useful for both your writing mind and every day mind.
- Pick a word at random (theorise if it is really random if you want to) and write about that. EXAMPLE WORDS: Dentists, flat, opticians, trees, Earth, novel, author.
- Pick a first line a poem or novel and either use that as a starting point to write critically, or as a continuation point to write creatively.
Free-writing is a topic I could go on and on about, but I’ll leave it for now (although I might come back to it in the future, and maybe on my other blog I may even share my own experiences and pieces!). Thank you guys for reading and let me know if you free-write yourself.! Feel free to share any of your pieces, comments or prompts below. 🙂
PS Check out this paper if you wish for more info or thoughts on this topic! This one is about using free-writing to write critically (eg in university) so it may not be of interest if you are just writing creatively (which is fine too, of course!).