Free Your Writing with Freewriting
When it comes to defeating writer’s block, there is but one thing to do, and that is to write. It seems counterintuitive and downright ironic, but the only way to break through the block of words standing between you and that blank page is to put words on the page. Those words don’t have to be great. They don’t even have to be good. They simply have to be words, stilted, fought-for, culled-from-the-abyss words..
In other words, they are words pulled from the deep depths of your creativity and caught on the page. As you do this, you will find that more words find you, and before you know you are defeating writer’s block. There are a few ways to do this, and any combination of them can help unleash the imagination and tap into the words longing to flow through you.
Facing the Blank Page
If there’s little else I’ve learned through the years of showing up to the blank page, it’s that our creativity becomes dormant through lack of use. When we let the chaos and busyness of life take all of our focus and energy, our creativity withers until it lies dormant in the depths of our mind. When our creativity lies dormant, the words disappear into what we refer to as writer’s block.
The way to spark your creativity and those words back to life – back into your life – is to show up faithfully, turn off the inner critic, turn on some music to help keep your fear and doubts away, and write. Simply write.
When I taught writing to college freshmen at the University of Kentucky, one of the tools I used to help my students uncover ideas and explore their creative thinking was through freewriting. I’m still a fan of this tool to help writers clear the path for their creativity.
With freewriting, there are only two rules: 1. You must keep your pen moving across the page (or your fingers moving across the keyboard); 2. You are not allowed to cross our or edit as you go (in other words, no backspacing, no crossing out; forward movement only, just like in life). Other than these two rules, freewriting is just what it sounds like; you are free to write whatever comes into your mind.
How to Keep the Pen Moving
As difficult as this may sound, it doesn’t have to be. You simply agree to be the vessel through which words pour out. Again, those words do not need to be brilliant or even good. They can be mediocre, they can be awful, all that matters in this process is that you commit to writing words on the page for a set amount of time (more on that below). Remember, your goal is defeating writer’s block, not a perfect manuscript.
If you cannot think of anything at all to write, don’t panic.
The beauty of a freewriting exercise is if you can’t think of what to say, that’s exactly what you write on the page. I cannot think of anything to write, I cannot think of anything to write, I cannot think of anything to write, until thoughts show up and words begin to show up. Eventually you will discover words clamoring to be poured out onto the blank page. It will happen if you trust the process.
Maintaining Forward Motion
One of the ways I keep my fingers moving across the keyboard without correcting or backspacing is to dim my screen or stare out a nearby window or at a piece of art on the wall. When I am not able to see the words on the screen, I am not as concerned with misspellings or the grammar tracker’s blue underlining. I am concerned with keeping up with the ideas and words my mind is uncovering.
To quiet my inner critic is happy to keep me from defeating writer’s block by telling me to seek perfection over progress. I drown out his voice by putting on a playlist of favorite music. I tend to put on a playlist that runs for a minimum of 15 minutes because I find 15 minutes gives my mind plenty of time to write the words, I have nothing at all to say; there is nothing in my mind…until I find a rhythm in the words. Committing to 15 minutes of uncensored writing invites creativity and words to weave together to form ideas, snippets of dialogue, story ideas, or thoughts to share on my blog.
Don’t Fear the Process
Using this technique I have sparked the start of several story ideas. I find a creative writing prompt and let my mind wander through scenes in my imagination until a story plays like a movie in my mind and my fingers merely need to capture the scene in words.
Not perfect words. Not great words. Not even necessarily good words, at least not at first. At first they are simply words allowing me to capture and convey the scene as it unfolds.
But here’s the thing about this kind of showing up. Eventually the words become better than good words. More and more great words show up when I do. Scenes become solid and dialogue flows as if I am eavesdropping at a cocktail party or coffee shop.
You Get to Rewrite Bad Writing
But you can’t rewrite a draft that doesn’t exist. Freewriting provides a way to create that first draft. It also creates an opportunity for creativity to spark more words.
By committing to progress over perfection, creativity eventually takes the place of doubt and fear and writer’s block. We’ve all heard the popular quote attributed to Ernest Hemmingway: The first draft of anything is $*it.
There are other similar quotes reminding writers that good writing comes from rewriting. But rewriting can only happen if writing has taken place. That’s why I like to remind myself to show up and write whatever words I can eke out. I recently stumbled across a quote from commencement address from Bernard Malamud at Bennington College in 1981 that inspires me daily to make sure writing takes place:
“After first drafts one may revise endlessly. There is more than one way to revise. Some things come to you serendipitously; other demand hard rethinking. Revision is the constant creation of afterthoughts. One learns the best way to milk his mind. The first draft of anything is suspect unless one is a genius.”Bernard Malamud
Write. Revise. Repeat.