Facing the blank screen can be one of the most intimidating moments of being a writer. I have a sure fire way to conquer this moment: the free write.
A free write is a word spew, or word vomit if you don’t mind a graphic image.
A free write is also a brainstorm or stream of consciousness. It is the act of putting down a word — any word — and then another, another, and another. In a free write, you conquer the blank page by the simple act of just making it not blank. That effort can make a difference in your confidence and your momentum for the rest of your writing time.
I know that for me personally, I don’t have a lot of time to stare at a blank page.
So I write the most hackneyed, predictable sentence I can write about the characters or the main points for a full ten minutes. From there, I take a break to clear my head, but I have something to edit. I can save the tiny chunks of goodness, delete the rest, and start over. I find that by “priming the pump,” I’m more productive, more confident and more creative.
I’d like to suggest that if you are going to be productive and successful, that you aim to be a champion free writer.
If you are a champion at this, you’ve locked your self-editor in the closet.
You don’t have room for him at all. The best freewriting is fast. So if you are stopping every six seconds to edit yourself, not only are you slowing down, but you’re slowly eroding away your confidence. There is a place for self-editing — and IMHO authors don’t do enough of it — but it is NOT in the initial drafting stage.
If you are a champion at this, you’re comfortable.
Free writers have to practice their momentum. They don’t just become good at this. If you’ve never tried it before, set a timer for 1-2 minutes and then see how many words you can get down in a short about of time about your subject.
If you are a champion at this, your brain gets a workout.
If you are a free writer, you have to think fast as well as type fast. Now not everyone is a fast thinker, but I believe that you can increase your processing speed with practice. And another option is to create this first draft by hand. Julia Cameron writes, “The computer is fast—too fast for our purposes. Writing by computer gets you speed but not depth. Writing by computer is like driving a car at 85 mph. Everything is a blur. “Oh, my God, was that my exit?” Writing by hand is like going 35 mph. “Oh, look, here comes my exit. And look, it has a Sonoco station and a convenience store.”
If you are a champion at this, you may tap into your subconscious.
With practice, and especially if you are writing with a pen or pencil, your subconscious thoughts are more likely to come to the surface. From this article in Psychology Today, “Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported her study of children in grades two, four and six that revealed they wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.”
If you are a champion at this, you may pick up a pencil instead.
Handwriting is often an effective anti-anxiety treatment and can calm you down. It’s these thoughts that may be your best work, but it’s not going to come if you are to self-aware, worried about spelling or keep thinking that this is stupid. Consider ditching the computer for a while to get over that blank screen fear and free write the old-fashioned way.
If you are a champion at this, you may discover a great metaphor or connection.
While we are writing, we can often free associate unlike items and perhaps see connections that we didn’t see before. It’s also quite acceptable to take a tired and worn out cliche and rework it so that you have a fresh image in your mind. These metaphors can make your prose extraordinary.
If you are a champion at this, your productivity increases.
If you are in the habit of free writing then you are working. You’re actually getting something done. Writers write. Those who sit around and wait for inspiration get a lot less done. By habitually free writing, you are growing in discipline. You’re creating more and more drafts. You have more to edit and potentially more to publish. This feels good and it’s a lot more fun to be published than it is to be constantly waiting for the elusive muse.
And finally, if you are a champion at this, when you do get that free write done, you have a draft.
You understand this big, stinkin’, pile of words isn’t supposed to be publishable. These words are just the raw material — a hunk of coal that will eventually be pressed into a diamond. And whether Hemingway actually said something to this effect or not, the concept is a true one: the first draft of anything is ca-ca.
If you’re going to free write today, you’re going to open a document and just go.
You might put down what you’re thinking. You might type out what items are on your desk. If you are free writing, you are creating word after word, sentence after sentence, about nearly anything.
If you are in the habit of free writing, then you have a great tool. Use it as often as you can.
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Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.