The Free Write is a writing strategy developed in 1973 by Peter Elbow that helps us separate our inner creator from our inner critic. It reminds us that our writing is composed of two distinct processes: composing and editing. And it forces us to focus on the task of creating our work before we start tearing it apart.
In part I of this post, I wrote that we are unique among artists because we have to make our own material. A painter begins with paint. A sculptor starts with clay. She dips her hand into the bucket and begins to shape it into a body, a snake, a vase.
As writers, we must make our own clay, which is what we’re doing when we free write.
We make our clay by lining up words and images and ideas as they come to us—without censoring them or worrying if they’re headed in the right direction; without wondering whether anyone will want to read these words of ours.
Free Write Instructions
Here’s how it works: Set a timer for a specified time—say ten or twenty or thirty minutes—and begin writing. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or style. If you get off topic or run out of ideas, keep writing. If you don’t know what to write, you can write I don’t know what to write. If you’re frustrated or feel bored or uncomfortable, you can write about that.
The point is to keep your fingers moving until something more original arises.
Free Write Rules
Ready to give the free write a try? Set your timer for twenty minutes and free write—without censoring or editing yourself. Without worrying about spelling or style. Just keep your fingers and thoughts moving until the timer ends.
Once you’ve finished, you can go back and edit what you’ve written. You’ll find some really bad writing, which you can delete. But you’ll also find some great writing, the kind of writing that surprises you because you’ve tricked yourself into writing past the voice that would have told you not to take such a chance.
These first words are a trail of breadcrumbs; they’re a thread to start tugging on; they’re the spark that might grow into a fire if we tend to it.
They are the material from which we might build entire worlds.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how to take these bits we’re creating and shape them into the best versions of themselves. For now, I invite you to focus on pushing past the blank mind and page. Focus on generating words; on making clay.
What would you write if you knew the world was waiting to hear what you had to say?
And why not start writing it today?
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