This is the first in a series of blog posts covering topics that new writers might find helpful; for July, I’m focusing on inspiration.
I’ve had a bit of a writing lull recently, so I am hoping that by sharing some ideas with you, I will also be giving my own creativity a kick up the place that wants kicking! As we go through, I’ll share how these tips are working for me as I try them out again, putting my money where my mouth is!
Today, I’m talking about freewriting. This is probably the most long-standing writing habit of mine, and it’s the one I return to again and again. There is no great mystery to it: freewriting is just putting pen to paper and writing. Anything. There are, however, lots of different ways you can get started with freewriting. Here are some that have worked well for me.
One of my favourite methods of approaching freewriting is the ten-minute sprint. The rules are simple: write for ten minutes. I have a weirdly strong preference for doing freewriting by hand, with a mechanical pencil, in a lined A5 notebook, but since the whole point is that you can do it anywhere, go with what works for you, whether that’s typing on your phone, scribbling on a napkin, using a quill and parchment – whatever. The only thing you have to do is write continuously for ten minutes. You can start by writing “I don’t know what I am going to write next,” or by listing what you’ve just had for lunch, or transcribing the conversation you’ve just had with the postman – it doesn’t matter. You just have to write words.
I love this exercise because it is so freeing (I mean, the clue is in the title). No one is going to read what you’re writing, you don’t even have to think particularly hard, you just need to keep putting one word after another. Sometimes I’ll do this without punctuation to make it more free-form, and sometimes, I even leave out the spaces between the words. I don’t know quite what it is, but something about writing by hand and joining up every single word makes me come out with some really crazy and wonderful stuff. Most of it makes no sense at all, but it is so much fun.
Once you’ve got a bit of a feel for freewriting, it’s a good idea to try and make it a habit. I am not a ‘write every day’ writer, nor have I (yet) developed ‘habits for life,’ but I do go through phases of high creativity, and making freewriting a part of my day really helps to sustain those periods of productivity. The easiest way to incorporate freewriting into your day is to start doing ‘morning pages.’ This idea was introduced by Dorothea Brande in her book Becoming A Writer. I’ve made a short video introducing this technique, which you can watch here.
Morning pages are simple: as soon as you wake up, you grab a pen and a notebook from your bedside table and start scribbling. Write down your weird dream, how you feel physically, mentally, what you’re going to do that day, anything at all, and then just keep writing until it’s time to get up and get on with your day. I find this such a good technique for starting the day in a creative mindset. I scribble my morning pages so messily they are pretty much illegible (and I sometimes use the method I mentioned above of smooshing all my words together without spaces!) because for me, it’s a warm-up, it’s like stretches for my brain, and to be honest I’m probably not going to look back at what I have written pre-caffeine! It is pretty cool to see what your mind comes up with before you’re fully awake, though, and it’s absolutely worth experimenting with if you haven’t tried morning pages before.
Another way that you can use freewriting to get you back into the creative flow is to create a cumulative document. I discovered this one year when I did a full-on ‘cheat’s version’ of NaNoWriMo (an absolutely brilliant novel-drafting challenge that takes place in November every year, and which I think every writer should try at least once!). I wasn’t in a place to write a proper novel draft, but I wanted to use the challenge to get back into writing, so I decided to create a Word document and by the end of the month, it would have 50,000 words. It didn’t matter WHAT those words were, just that there were 50,000 of them! I’d add to it during breaks at work, in the evenings, whenever I could grab a spare ten minutes, and I wrote fragments of fiction, nonfiction, story ideas, conversations I’d had – at one point the whole thing turned into a script for about 10 pages, which was unexpected! It was great fun, and even though the end result was not a cohesive whole, it was satisfying to know that I could at least produce that volume of words in a month!
If you are struggling to think of a single thing to write, even for freewriting, try using a prompt word. This could be anything – I keep lists of ten random words so that I can grab one to use as a prompt – it can be as simple as a colour or a name or a type of food, anything which you can use as a spark to get you scribbling. Next time, I am going to post in more detail about writing prompts, and how you can use them to kickstart your freewriting. The best thing about it is that you never know when a brilliant idea is going to pop up in amongst your ramblings, and when it does, it’s so exciting. Even if you’re working on a longer writing project, freewriting is a great way to limber up, to get into a writing session or to start your day with a short, creative burst.
I hope this has been useful – do let me know if you use any of these freewriting techniques, or if you’re going to give some of them a try!