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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Writer Club: Is freewriting a good idea?

Last week, we discussed the importance of planning (based primarily on the lack of my own).  So we're drastically switching gears this week.

What about when the purpose of the writing is to write without a plan?

In other words, freewriting.

As a former English teacher, I know many of you have probably been scarred by freewriting exercised in class.  That scenario goes something like this:

Teacher: Today we're going to do freewriting!
Student: Groan.
Teacher: Don't worry it will be fun!  We're going to spend five minutes writing about whatever you want!
Student: But I don't know what to write about.
Teacher: That's ok, write about that!
Then the student starts to write with heavy sighs about how there's nothing to write about.
The philosophy in this take on freewriting is that writing of any type increases fluency in the language.  The very act of writing itself (even if it's the same sentence over and over) decreases the fear of the written word.

I'm guilty of various scenarios like the one above, and I don't buy it.

You have to do more than just write anything.  Especially if you're really wanting to sharpen your craft.  But there is a place for freewriting in an author's toolbox.  Freewriting is a way to examine aspects of writing without having to worry about plot, characterization, or pacing.

Here are some ideas for freewriting that may help get you going when you're feeling a bit of fear creeping in or have an encounter with writer's block:

  • Emotions: Write about a person who is angry, sad, happy, etc.  If you practice with a generic person, you'll find it easier to hone in on the details in your "real" writing without having to resort to "She was happy."
  • Sensory Images: We're pretty good about visual images, but what about the other senses?  When's the last time you had to describe the texture of something?  It can be pretty difficult.  Try using all the senses except for sight to describe something.  
  • Alternate Words: Do you find yourself using the same word to describe something over and over?  Do your characters always say something with chagrin? (I'm looking at you Stephanie Meyer).  Sometimes just listing from your own vocabulary, which will sound more natural than pulling out a thesaurus, can help you stop using the crutch of your favorite words.
What other types of freewriting do you employ?  Is it helpful or does it just fill the space for you?  


Unknown said...

I've always assumed that that free writing assignments in high school were simply an indicator that the teacher hadn't actually created a lesson plan for that day. Thanks for the confirmation!!!

mshatch said...

hmm, alternate you make me wonder if I use the same words to describe things. Oh, dear, another search to be added to my editing process!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I'm not the biggest fan of freewriting.

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