Free writing might be the secret sauce you’ve been missing
I’ve been writing a series of how to improve your writing on a friend’s blog. In this series, I’ve touched on:
- Tips and hacks for learn how to write better
- Strategies on how to structure your writing better
- How you can effortlessly write 1500 words
- Why you should use book reviews to hone your writing skills
- How to write a kick-ass book review
But I wanted to zoom in on one thing in particular – free writing. I find myself talking about this a lot with people via Twitter or in some of the different online groups I belong to.
If you’re already an experienced writer then it might not matter so much.
But if you’re just getting started, or you struggle with writing long-form, or you’re just looking to get better then free writing might be the secret sauce you need.
How can free writing help?
Here’s what people are constantly asking themselves:
- How can I improve my writing ability?
- How can I get started journaling?
- How can I write better blog posts?
- How can I develop my long-form writing skills?
Free writing isn’t the complete answer to any or all of these questions. But it is a great way to kick start your learning curve when it comes to writing.
Free writing trains writing muscles and builds writing fitness
Free writing is the equivalent of a gym workout. But it’s for developing and training the muscles that you need to learn how to improve your writing.
Yes, I’m talking about building muscle and getting fit. There are muscles you need to train for better writing. And when you write a lot, you get “fit”.
It’s just like going to the gym or training for an event. Consider the following:
- Would you expect to be able to deadlift 2x your body weight without any training?
- Would you expect to be able to run a marathon without first putting getting in a lot of miles on the road preparing beforehand.
- Would you expect to get better at boxing or martial arts without practice, repetition and developing muscle memory first?
Writing is the same as all of these things. It requires trained muscles and a high level of fitness on your part.
I’ve spent years teaching writing. And that includes formally at two different universities as well as informally with all sorts of folks.
There are proven strategies that just work. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a teenager, and adult or someone who speaks English as a second language.
These strategies are like tools for your writing toolbox. They work, but they only work when you put in the work. It really is just like going to the gym or training for an event.
I’ve written about different strategies for writing here as well. But let’s dig into free writing on its own.
So what the heck is free writing?
Free writing isn’t exactly journaling, but it has some similarities. And you can use it as a journaling technique if you want to.
Where journaling is supposed to help you reflect and get to know yourself better, free writing is – as I’ve been pointing out above – more like the writing equivalent of a warm-up that you might do before some serious exercise.
There are two different kinds of free writing and you should use each for different purposes:
- Unfocused free writing; and
- Focused free writing
Focused free writing
UNFOCUSED free writing is to help you:
- Get you warmed up,
- Overcome writing blocks
- Build confidence
- Develop writing fluency and flow
Unfocused free writing
If you do FOCUSED free writing, you’ll get all of the benefits of UNFOCUSED free writing, but the purpose is more to help you:
- Generate new ideas
- Crystalize ideas that are partially formed
- Create a lot of content in a kind of “brain dump” that you can edit later
What are the rules?
The rules for each are roughly the same, but let’s deal with unfocused free writing first.
- Get a pen and some paper.
- Then set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Now start writing down EVERYTHING and ANYTHING you can think of.
- Write as fast as you can for the whole 10 minutes.
Now, there are some things to remember as well
- Keep your hand moving across the paper.
- That means DON’T STOP WRITING for any reason.
- DON’T edit or critique what you’re writing, even inside your own head.
- DON’T read over what you have written – at least until the time is up.
- DON’T worry about grammar, spelling, sentence structure or anything like that.
- DON’T worry if parts – or even any of it – makes sense.
- DON’T spend any time fixing mistakes. If you make a mistake – ignore it or put a line through it if you have to do something.
- If you don’t know what to write, write down something like, ‘I don’t know what to write right now’. You will eventually think of something (trust me).
Here’s a pro tip
You won’t want to hear this, but here’s a pro tip:
- TRY IT RIGHT NOW
- And then read on below when you’ve done it…
Now repeat every day for 30 days and then check out dem gainsz bruh.
When should I do the unfocused free writing?
I already talked about this but, to expand, regular free writing will help when you:
- Don’t know what you’re going to write about
- Don’t know what you want to write about
- Are feeling anxious about some writing deadline or a topic you’re feeling unsure about.
- Are encountering any form of resistance to writing or getting moving on any kind of project. Yes, like writer’s block.
- Need to get warmed up and build your writing fitness muscles.
- Need to clear your head of unwanted noise and ideas.
- Need to kickstart your thinking and writing process.
When should I do the unfocused free writing?
To expand on this one, focused free writing works just like unfocused free writing except that you start with a topic or some kind of prompt to get you going.
An example could be when you have an idea for a long-form article, and you pick one aspect of this topic or idea and then write about that for 10 minutes. Don’t over think things. It’s a simple process:
- Think of a very specific idea, topic or subtopic or something that narrows down the universe of things you have under consideration. this is the prompt to get you started that relates to your larger writing goal.
- Note this down at the top of your page if you need to see it written down.
- Start the time and write down as much as you can about that particular idea using the free writing rules I told you about earlier.
- AND STAY ON TOPIC…!
- Stop after exactly 10 mins.
All the other rules I told you still apply.
Now, I hear you asking a couple of things:
“Can I use a pencil for this?” “Can I do this on my computer?”
Sorry, no…! The answer is no, you cannot. I don’t wanna hear any more about it. Stop whining. Get a pen and practice writing by hand for a change.
If you’re not used to writing by hand for longer than it takes you to write down your phone number then your hand is going to cramp when you get to about 7 minutes. Maybe earlier.
I’m just warning you now, it might hurt a wittle bit.
But toughen up and remind yourself that you’re also building the actual muscles in your hand as well.
Now you have a new tool in your writing tool kit. But you can get more mileage out of this if you learn a variation.
If you struggle with writing at all, though, perhaps stay away from the focused practice until you build up some “muscle” and stamina by just practicing the unfocused free writing.
This phase of building muscle and getting fit is important because you’ve got to get strong before you get to the ore meaty stuff, like the actual task of writing a blog post or essay.
Repetition and practice aren’t cool these days but they still work
The only way for you to get stronger and fitter and better at writing is through two things. Both of these are considered “not cool” and downright politically incorrect in the minds of some people.
What I mean, of course is that you will need to Practice and Repeat these tasks over and over. And over and over and over.
This will help with your writers block. And it will help if you can’t get moving on a project. Don’t take my word for it though. Just try it for 10 minutes per day for ONE MONTH.
If you can learn and practice free writing every day for a sustained duration of time, like a month or more, you will improve both the QUANTITY and QUALITY of your writing.
But you need to know how to measure those gains.
How to measure those gains
Ok, we’re nearly at the end and thanks very much for paying attention so far. I only have two more things to add. And both relate to measuring your gains over time. Here we go.
- You need to keep a record of how much you write
- Once you’ve got the proper form dialed in you can experiment with different amounts of time
Keep a record of how much you write
This is easy. Just count the number of words after each session, graph it and then watch what happens over time.
If you don’t measure your gains you won’t see how much you’re improving. Also, there’s some magic that happens when you start tracking stuff like this.
Increase the time
This tip is advanced and only once you have proved to yourself that you can DOUBLE the quantity, that is the number of words that you can write in 10 minutes.
Set yourself a goal of 2x or even 3x what you write on your very first free writing session. And once you’ve achieved that, then you can experiment with different amounts of time. For example, try setting your timer for 15 minutes or 20 minutes.
Ok, that’s it. Now go get after it…!