Whenever I’ve had a spare ten minutes recently, I’ve been practising freewriting. It is fantastically simple. Open up a blank word document, set a timer and just write with great speed. I ignore typos, ignore grammar and just focus on filling the page. Generally, if my mind goes completely blank I just start to repeat “Writing, Writing” over and over again until my mind snags on something and I start again. The result is 500 words or so of the above.
Mitch Hedberg was famous for pioneering this technique, and his neatly composed notebooks were what inspired me to try it out for myself. One is at the top of the post. Sometimes I have switched to paper when away from the computer, but I found this method works best on the computer.
It’s a simple technique but an incredibly effective one. I think there’s a number of benefits to it that have wide reaching consequences beyond just writing.
For creative work, it removes the fear of starting something. You have to keep writing no matter how inane or stupid the thought is, so the technique forces you to keep going. The blank page no longer becomes intimidating because you know you can start, even with no real idea of where you are going. Far from fatiguing me, it invigorates and energises my work and my writing. I am generally inspired to carry on writing afterwards, because the fear of a blank page has been removed. Later as well, when I review the stream of garbled words, I can generally pull out a couple of ideas or thoughts to follow up. I make a note of them and then develop them later in a more considered way.
However, I have found beyond the artistic uses, the technique is extremely useful for clearing out the mental flotsam and jetsam. Thoughts that have been swirling under the surface bubble up, borne by some unseen current, then are dispatched to words as quickly as they can emerge. This is why I have found it to be easier when typing on a computer, as I can type faster than I can write by hand. I can get the thoughts down almost at the speed they happen. It’s like dumping my subconscious onto a page to be dealt with later.
Julia Cameron cites this sort of free writing as a cornerstone of artistic and personal development in her series The Artist’s Way, calling them morning pages:
They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.
It’s useful because as well as getting rid of circling thoughts, you can also be surprised by what exactly you write down. Strange new ideas and things to do appear almost without notice. Afterwards, you feel refreshed. It clears your mind and gives a voice to the subconscious. Like Julia Cameron says, it has a way of synchronizing the day, refreshing the mind and starting again.
I recommend you try it. If you don’t feel comfortable typing, just try to fill a page of A4 as fast as you can. It’s useful in many ways, not just for writers or artists.