Monday, October 3, 2011

Grammar ABCs: F is for Freewriting

How do you get rid of that inner editor—the devilish one that sits on one shoulder, whispering, “That’s not very good. What makes you think you can write? You can even spell!” Or “Doesn’t that need a comma there?” Or “Is that the right word? I don’t think so.”

Freewriting or flow of consciousness is a great exercise to shake off that devilish inner editor and get yourself back into a fun, playful sense of creativity. I think Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind) was one of the first who promoted this form of writing.

The rule for doing this is there are no rules. Choose a topic. Set a timer for ten minutes and put pen to paper. Do not stop for any reason. Don’t worry about commas and spelling and grammar. Don’t think about what you’re writing, just write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s “I can’t think of anything to write. This is a stupid exercise.” Something will come to mind. Go from there, see where it takes you. You may end up on a topic far from the one you started with.

But what do I write about? Anything you want. Something you see out your window, something that’s bothering you, a resignation letter to your boss, a mini-murder mystery in which you kill off your boss. When I teach beginning writing classes, I ask my students to make a list of 5-10 things they’d like to write about. Then each picks one and we do the 10-minute exercise.

Take something from your Work In Progress. Have your character talk to you or write you a letter. Write a page describing your setting. Pick a feeling and write everything you associate with that feeling: what’s your physical reaction? What smell does it evoke? What color do you associate with this feeling? Any tastes come to mind? Music? What memories?

You might end up with pages of drivel, but you might also find a diamond in the rough, something that could help with your WIP or be the beginning of a whole new novel.

Try it. You might enjoy it!

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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  1. This is an interesting idea, Heidi: muzzle the inner editor to free the inner writer.

    Creativity comes with its hangups, and freewriting circumvents them. Not only that, but it can uncover that diamond in the rough you mentioned and polish it up to rival the Hope Diamond. Nice!

  2. Freewriting is a great idea. Many times I concentrate too much on getting the wording just right instead of telling the story.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. I am terrible at free writing. I need a topic or a prompt. I have to have some idea of what's expected of me. Sitting me down in front of a blank page will only result in a blank page.

  4. Ms. Thomas, thank you for your article. It came at the perfect time for me, as I was punishing myself for not writing, exactly because I'm a perfectionist, and I can't help edit all the time. After I read your article, I did a little googling about first drafts and I found out that they are supposed to be messy, which was a great relief. Best wishes! :)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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