Generate ideas and creativity with freewriting
The technique of freewriting is a powerful tool to unblock the stuck mind and free the creative process.
Take any typical morning: I sit to write. It’s only 08:30 but my mind is already distracted. It needs to rest, to slow down, in order to do what I ask of it. It required an idea to form around, like a jelly-fish engulfing prey. What do I do? I turn to freewriting; it is my equivalent of stretching, of a warmup. The process is gradual. It’s a sensation of relaxation. Not of strain or effort. My fingers move across the keyboard, stilted at first. Soon the words begin to flow. Fuses have been lit, but the chemical reactions happen of themselves.
Some of the most imaginative and freeing work, I find, is done when I don’t stop to think.
Dorothea Brande discussed many profound insights in her seminal text, Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934. One of the most profound is the fact that subconscious processes are inhibited by the analytic, questioning, more-conscious mind. This is a problem.
“Old habits … will not be displaced easily if they get any warning … they will fight for their existence.”
― Dorothea Brande
— S. D. Parsons (@s_d_parsons) 6 April 2017
The conscious mind has a kind of tendency toward sameness, toward repetition. The less-conscious mind is a traveller to different worlds. It is not afraid of the darkness – because it is the darkness.
In there, buried, there is magic. Under the right circumstances, it emerges; fresh, bright and unique. Freewriting is a tool to aid you access this wellspring.
Let me give you an example of how the flow gets blocked: As I loosely typed my way into the initial draft of this very post, I began to see potential. Ah, I thought, I would like to share this with the world. In that instant it started to become an idea. As soon as that conception occurred, that the piece had a purpose, the need to control emerged, and the creative process diminished.
I lost momentum. I choked, as Eminem would say. There was no crowd. I was not stood on a stage. Yet when my mind turned up the effect was the same. My own mind became all the audience necessary, and its oft-overbearing presence stifling.
In more detail: What is freewriting and how do you use it? It is very simple.
Set a time (five-, ten-minutes). Write for that allotted time.
But wait. What makes freewriting different is that you don’t stop no matter what. It might take some getting used to, some discipline. The trick is, you have to let go of caring about what you write. It doesn’t matter if you type the words: ‘I don’t know what to write’, over and over.
I often begin with something along the lines of: ‘Here I am again, freewriting, here we go …’ The content doesn’t matter. Don’t stop to backtrack, fix typos, spelling mistakes. Keep writing. If I am on a computer typing it might read: ‘so hre U am again, freewriting, here we go …’
It might seem pointless – typing meaningless words, or writing about how you can’t write – but trust me. There is something in the simple act of writing, no matter what it is, that initiates a flow. So long as you don’t stop, even if you have to mash keys, or scribble nonsense, the process works at loosening a valve. If you keep at it there is a dropping away of tightness. A hanging up of the hesitation to speak openly. The hesitation that we wear like a cloak in our daily lives. Freewriting is the unstopping, the shedding, and it can be deeply freeing.
The more you freewrite – like anything, it comes easier with time and practice – the more you will begin to surprise yourself. Out of the mess jewels will emerge. Veins of gold will appear, running through the mud and rock. Clever associations of imagery, unexpectedly conversational tones, snippets of glorious prose. You will discover things you did not imagine lived inside you. They will emerge onto the page to both frighten and delight you.
When, and only when, the freewriting is over is the critical mind allowed to re-emerge.
The critical mind can come out once you have finished. With this tool, this useful tool (remember, it has a time and place) you can sift through the products of your unthinking labour. You can extract what works. Pull the lovely lines, stow the original ideas. Tidy up bad grammar, correct spelling mistakes and typos. And delete the crap, as you see fit.
A final tip: Especially for those beginning freewriting, or those out of practise, it can be advisable using pen and paper. A word-processor makes it all-too-tempting to indulge in editing as you write. Remember, if you are correcting or editing, you are not freewriting.
How and when you use the technique is up to you. Experiment with it. It can be therapeutic, a useful for idea generation, or a warm-up for the writer, in place of stretching and light aerobics for the athlete. However you use it:
Surprise yourself with what you uncover.