Free writing is a necessary skill, not an optional thing. If you really want to see your writing improve, you have to free write, and I’m going to tell you why.
“But Marty, I don’t need to free write, I have to concentrate on my story.” After NaNoWriMo, a lot of people prove to themselves that they can force a story out in a month. Some came close, others gave up. But NaNo always comes with at least as many success stories as failures, and even the “failures” result in faster writing. When you are zeroed in on your story and holding yourself accountable for daily word counts, it’s easier to keep your resolve. But what about the other times? What about those times we spend staring at a blank piece of paper or word document, waiting for a bout of inspiration before we touch a key or put the pen tip to the notebook? If you need a drill sergent yelling at you to write, try this, otherwise read on.
Free writing is probably the fasted way to clear a clogged storyteller. Why? Because you are moving. As a physicist, I hate using clichés about Newton’s law of inertia, but there are several places in daily life where it can easily become an esoteric abstraction that is perfectly suited to motivational speeches. The fact is, that once your pen starts moving, a bunch of barriers to writing are immediately broken down. This happens because you can’t start dumping ideas until they have an outlet. Your mind clears the clutter and puts it on paper, allowing it to better focus on creativity.
My favorite way to unstick my brain is to free write. It is the most effective method to combat writer’s block. We all know that once you get 100 words down, it’s much easier to get the next sentence out than it was to write the first sentence. Your brain acclimates to dumping ideas quickly, your focus improves, and it’s easier to keep writing. Even if you aren’t scribbling about your story, the pattern repeats. I like to start with something like, “I can’t write today. I can’t focus. I’m sitting here at…” I begin telling the story about my situation, and I jot down every idea that has the nerve to cross my mind. Doesn’t matter how well it fits or if it even makes sense. Doesn’t matter how off-the-wall it is. I write it, and I reap the benefits. Then I go back to my story or idea and I can again craft narrative instead of sitting idle. If you read the last 101 post and heeded the advice there, you might have a half-hour writing session to fill. Don’t waste it staring at a blank page.
That’s it. Easy enough. But just to make it clear, free writing isn’t just for clearing writer’s block. Here’s a list of five more benefits of free writing.
It’s Creativity Practice
I spoke with someone the other night that asked how I come up with story ideas. I told him that I make stories out of everything. When I write in my journal, I’m detailing normal things about my life. It’s not a creative pursuit, but the brain dump is practice for crafting stories, because even while journaling, you are telling a story. Free writing has the same effect. Look at your environment, find one thing that’s either out of place or interesting. I could be a pen someone dropped on the floor. It could be a stain in an odd spot. It could be a person you’ve never met. Start writing a story about whatever the thing or person is. Make it crazy. Talk about other realms, strange creatures, and alternate universes where that thing or person shouldn’t be there. If you do this enough, you’ll start crafting stories from everything, even if you don’t have a pen handy. I literally cook up stories all day long, about everything I see. I’ll give you an example.
I’m in a grocery store, shopping for eggs. When I find the carton I want, because I’m very picky, I wonder about the other cartons. What if one of them is expired? What happens when they expire. The employees obviously get them off the shelves, but do they throw them away? That would be a waste of product. Maybe they do something else with them. Maybe they put them on a truck, and ship them to an egg disposal facility, where they are cracked. The shells are crushed up and used to make products like super-strong fibers. The fibers are then woven together into strands, coated in egg white, and run through a furnace, turning the thread into a synthetic polymer used for … something. Maybe the expired yolks are gathered up, and gas collected from them is fuel for the furnace, or fed to some kind of engineered creature…
I could go on and on. Next thing I know, I’ve been standing in the egg and dairy aisle for half an hour mumbling to myself, and attracted a crowd of onlookers. I rush to the registers and get out while I can. This is mental free writing, and I do it constantly. If you keep yourself in a state of creativity, it will become second-nature, and it all starts with free writing.
Let’s face it. Editing isn’t always fun. Writing on a story will wear you out. Sometimes we get frustrated with life in general, and it binds our creative process up, but we still want to get some words down on something, right? At times like this, I love starting on a piece of flash fiction, and playing with a new story idea. That’s the fun part. That’s why I enjoy writing, because I like making shit up and turning lies and brain dumps into stories. Even if I get nothing else done with my writing time, I’ll end up with words on a page, and I’ll feel better about myself, having written something. Sometimes it even becomes a decent product for Wattpad, my flash fiction group, or even a submission to a magazine or blog. I don’t have to worry about shifting into one of my angry-because-I-didn’t-write-today moods. I’m relaxed, and I have an easier time working through the rest of my day. Want to get paid for your writing? Get ideas here.
It’s Word Count
I’m a firm believer in daily word count goals, and this is one area where free writing really shines. I participate in the twitter writing challenge group, and the goal is 500 words per day. I usually aim even higher, but I always try to get at least 500, even if it isn’t on a novel. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m drafting a novel or novella, I write on that everyday, but when I’m editing I still need to fill in the writing gaps, and free writing is perfect for getting those words down.
It Expands Your Imagination
When you free write, just like any other experience, you learn things. You’re sitting there, spawning new ideas, and those ideas cross-reference with other things in your head, sometimes even your current story project. Your brain makes new connections that weren’t there before, and you start collecting ideas for new stories or revisions to your current work in progress. Your main character might be stuck, not knowing what to do, and your free writing may accidentally unlock the perfect solution. This happens quite frequently, and personally, I believe it’s because part of my brain is working on the story while the rest is randomly spitting ideas. Sooner or later, there’s going to be a collision, and you have not only your main character’s next move, but sometimes a completely new perspective on your story or world-building.
Enrich Your Other Characters
Free writing can be used to tell all the stories about your characters that won’t ever show up in the book. You can write about an experience your MC had as a child, or tell a rich tale about a minor character that only shows up for one scene. Plus, you never know, those stories may become their own publications some day. If your novel becomes a hit, people will jump on 99 cent ebooks about the other characters, or stories that reveal a lot more about the fictional world you’ve created.
If you aren’t free writing, at least some of the time, then you really need to be. Spend five or ten minutes today scribbling random thoughts, and see the benefits for yourself.