I used to poo-poo the idea of free-writing. I told myself that it was some touchy-feely, bohemian mumbo jumbo for writers who just wanted an excuse to write whatever crap is in their head without editing it. In many of the books on writing that I’ve read, the practice is encouraged, but I brushed it off and told myself I didn’t need those kinds of exercises.
In all honesty, I was too proud to admit that I was afraid of this practice. I was afraid of writing down the thoughts in my head, because those thoughts terrified me. I didn’t want to face myself in that way. Most of that stuff is anxious, insecure, fearful noise anyhow. Why would I boldly come face-to-face with it? That’s not my idea of a good time.
For those of you who are wondering, free-writing is a practice in which someone writes continuously for a set length of time without paying attention to spelling, grammar, flow, or generally anything of value. The idea is to produce brain vomit so the writer becomes unblocked.
Then I started reading Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I had decided that I wanted to help people become better writers, and this is heralded as a classic for helping creatives and closeted creatives come unblocked.
Cameron declares that morning pages are a great practice for unblocking creatives of any type. So of course I couldn’t recommend morning pages without first trying them myself.
The first several days were awkward. It was like looking at myself in a mirror and seeing a gnarly zit reflected back at me. It felt awkward to face those thoughts that I disregarded for so long.
But it made incredible changes that were small yet profound. I felt great every day. I did my pages every morning before work. I felt relaxed and at ease, because my day started with writing
It became a means of hashing out ideas for blog posts and my novel. If I was stuck, I threw my ideas out there and let my mind toy around with it through free-writing. Having a clearer idea of what to say, I became less blocked.
It’s important to emphasize that free-writing is effective for writings of all types and abilities. You can be new to the craft or carry years of experience with you. It does the same for everybody.
Here is what you can get out of it:
- All your asinine thoughts have an outlet. All those thoughts about going to the dry cleaners, the frustrations of your daily commute, the comment someone made that pissed the hell out of you…all those thoughts stand in the way between you and creativity. When you free-write, you make a place for those thoughts and clear them out of your head. Only then can you get at the thoughts underneath them. That idea – that thing you’re trying to convey – it’s in that noggin of yours. It’s buried inside, so clear away the dirt and free it.
- It’s a great way to hash out ideas when you’re stuck. It’s hard enough expressing ourselves, much less expressing ourselves in an elegant way that doesn’t make readers want to tear out their eyes. We need a place to practice and swing at a few balls, because we’re stiff or a little rusty or we’re having an awful day. We’re going to fumble and sound like an idiot for the first time around until we get to the essence of our ideas. Free-writing makes it okay to sound like an idiot.
- Nobody reads it. This is by far the greatest benefit to free-writing. It is so important for you to write something that nobody else reads. You already have that pressure with other work, so give yourself a break. Part of the reason we become blocked is because we know our baby is going out into a cold, bleak world. The pressure we feel is caused by the knowledge that other people will look at it. Free-writing is a valve to let some of that pressure out.
- Mistakes are okay. Since nobody reads it, your writing can be at its absolute worst. What an opportunity! You can write drivel or whiney repetitive nonsense. You can write clichés if you want to. You’re taught to correct mistakes, and you’re never allowed to make them. This is the one place where you can resist the urge to edit as you write. Free-writing is a party, and your inner critic is not invited.
- It’s the easiest path to writing every day. Even if you don’t do morning pages, you can free-write for fifteen minutes or for one page or while your kid takes a bath. No matter what the length of practice, it has the same liberating effect. Consistency is the most important factor. Be consistent and your blinking cursor will be much less daunting.
So of course I was wrong. Free-writing is much more than touchy-feely bohemian mumbo jumbo. If you’re feeling the same reservations I did, then try it for five minutes. You can always toss it in the garbage, but who knows? You may find that you enjoy it.