The Art of Freewriting…With A Purpose

by Deborah Sosin

Write about your feet. Go. Ten minutes. Hairy toe knuckles, fallen arches, that painful bunion. Ugly, smelly, too big, too small. The pedicure gone wrong. The foot-fetishist boyfriend. Whatever comes to mind. Just keep the pen moving.

That’s freewriting in a nutshell. Writing without stopping—no censoring, editing, or judging. No need to fix spelling, punctuation, or grammar. No need for perfection. Simply putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is a great way to bypass resistance, procrastination, and self-criticism.

Writing for writing’s sake. What a concept! “But,” you might ask, “isn’t that just time stolen from my ‘real’ work? If I’m going to write, I might as well finish that story or chapter, right?”

Think about it. How often do you give yourself permission to write without a specific goal of publication or presentation? What would happen if you allowed yourself to approach the page with no idea of what will emerge? We’re often more focused on the product than the process, and that’s where a lot of us get stuck.

Freewriting activates the nonlinear parts of the brain. Peter Elbow, in Writing Without Teachers, notes that freewriting “teaches you to write without thinking about writing,” and can bring energy back into “controlled” writing. Some people write three “morning pages,” a practice drawn from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. There is no prescription for how often and how long to do freewriting. Just write. Don’t analyze. You don’t need to know the answer.

Freewriting is great for getting the pen (or fingers) moving again after a stretch of writer’s block. Or if you’re an active, experienced writer, freewriting can propel your current work forward. Say your protagonist leaps off the page in technicolor but a secondary character is a boring gray. Instead of burying your head in the manuscript for the hundredth time, try writing without stopping for ten (or twenty or thirty) minutes about the gray character. Or if you’re writing a memoir and find it difficult to access a tender or traumatic experience, do a freewrite that includes any memories and associations to open up that aspect of your life.

Coming at your work-in-progress via no-holds-barred freewriting can yield new, unexpected insights and, often, as a bonus, lovely literary nuggets you can use later.

Since 2009, I’ve led “Write It Like It Is” groups for writers of all skill levels—from novices to novelists, from people who haven’t written a word since high school English to people who journal daily. In my weekly groups or day-long workshops, we usually do ten minutes of writing from a prompt, followed by optional reading aloud, in the style of Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones. I can’t tell you how many people have uncovered surprising, enlightening, or deeply emotional memories through a simple prompt. Freewriting in a group can be especially powerful.

Freewriting without prompts is always an option. But for some immediate ideas, check out these 346 fun pop-up prompts. Or try this site, which generates a random daily writing prompt. Set a timer for ten minutes and go!

Deborah Sosin is a writer, freelance editor, and clinical social worker specializing in mindfulness. Her first picture book, Charlotte and the Quiet Place, illustrated by Sara Woolley, won several awards, including the 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Gold Award Winner from Foreword Reviews. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, The Writer’s Chronicle, Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Cognoscenti, Salon, and elsewhere. Her first nonfiction book, Breaking Free of Addiction: 39 Therapeutic Activities to Help You Recover from Drug and Alcohol Abuse, will be published by Between Sessions Resources in Fall 2017. Debbie earned an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work and an MFA from Lesley University and teaches at GrubStreet in Boston. Visit her at www.deborahsosin.com and www.charlotteandthequietplace.com.

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