Writing Exercises: Freewriting
One of the most valuable writing exercises I learned in college was freewriting.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, freewriting is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you will produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
This is not like other writing exercises because freewriting is also a tool that you can use to generate written material for a variety of projects. It will also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.
Writing Exercises and Train of Thought
The first few times I tried freewriting, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of freewriting and something clicked. Freewriting is not about train of thought, it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at freewriting, from January, 1999. This was just one of the many writing exercises I did in college under the creative writing program:
I set the microwave timer for 30 minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long – although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do freewrites in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a freewrite.
Train-of-thought writing exercises are pretty coherent. For the most part, it makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject, or working with a concrete topic. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way freewriting will.
I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, freewriting does a much better job.
Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness
By February, 1999, I had a much better grasp on freewriting:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice but once you get it down, it becomes a neat trick. So what can you do with it?
Applications for Freewriting
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of freewrites, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest the material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of freewriting lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my freewrites with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then, I pull these from the freewrite and use them to compose a poem.
Freewrites can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generates work that is more literary in nature and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried freewriting? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?
If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.