The Power of Freewriting

Saturday, November 19, 2011
photo by healingdream @
I am teaching a creative writing class once a week through my local recreation department. At the end of each class, I give my students a writing prompt for homework so they have something new to share at the next class. Some of the students come to class the next week and say, “I didn’t have any time to write.”

My first thought is, “If you want to write, you’ll make time to write.”

My second thought is, “I can completely relate.” I’ve been saying “I don’t have any time to write” as the deadline for the final copy of my 200+ page dissertation fast approaches, and I barely have a 100 page first draft.

Am I this far behind because I honestly didn’t have time to write?

As I prodded further into my students’ reading and writing habits over the past week, one of the students, who said she didn’t have time to write, admitted that she did sit down to write, but didn’t write anything good, so she stopped.

My first thought is, “All first drafts are crappy. Just get over it.”

My second thought is, “So that’s why I'm so far behind on my dissertation.”

It’s not that I don’t have time to write it, even if I do have three jobs, two grad classes, and a less-than-one-year-old puppy dividing my time. It’s not that I don’t want to write it. I really, really do want to write it.

But every time I think about writing it, I tell myself, “It’s not very good.”

Of course it’s not very good! It’s only a first draft! This is where revisions come in handy.

But it’s hard to take solace in the power of revisions when you’re struggling to get the initial thoughts down. Believe me, I know. And after I’ve put off writing anything for days at a time, it’s even harder to start writing again. Just like going to the gym – if I put it off for too many days in a row, I'm less likely to want to go again because I know how much it will hurt.

So for the past few days, I’ve been giving myself a warm-up before doing a full-on exercise with my dissertation. I’ve opened up my journal – yes, the one sitting in my drawer neglected for the past five months – and did some freewriting, wrote down anything that popped into my head. This warmed up my arm physically, and it warmed up my brain, and then it was much less painful to type out a few more pages of my dissertation.

I never knew freewriting could wield such power. Did you?

By: Anne Greenawalt


Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, M.Ed. said...

Wonderful post, Anne! You attacked a problem we all have as writers. I assign freewriting to my students (ESL class). Many times the kids will tell me they can't think of anything, or they don't know what to write, even with a prompt. I tell them to just put words down, even if they are nonsense. I have found that if you write, "I don't know what to write." a few times, the brain gears up and before long there are other things going on the paper.
Thanks for the great reminder!

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

I think free writing is great for getting going and breaking through. Linda is write - when you write "I don't know what to write" a few times, suddenly you start writing...something! Kinda like getting on the treadmill and saying, I'll just walk slowly for 10 minutes, and then you find yourself picking up the pace and staying on for 20.

hkhagan said...

Great idea! Free writing can be very useful. I’ve used it a number of times I couldn’t get something like an issue or an idea out of my head. Once it was out of the way I was able to focus on what I needed to. Love free writing as a way of moving forward!

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