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: free write.
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 practice these steps to become a champion free writer.
Lock your self-editor in the closet. 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.
Get 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.
Prepare for a mental workout. You will 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.
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.“
Pick up a pencil instead of a keyboard. 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 too self-aware, worried about spelling or keep thinking that this is stupid.
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. Or take a tired, worn-out cliche and rework it.
Watch your productivity increase. If you are in the habit of free writing then you are working. You’re actually getting something done. Those who sit around and wait for inspiration get a lot less done. By habitually freewriting, 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.
Complete a draft, a sloppy one, but a draft nonetheless. 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.
If you are in the habit of free-writing, then you have a great tool. Use it as often as you can.