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August 06, 2021

The Benefits of Freewriting

Writing can be hard. Whether you’re composing your thesis, penning a poem, or even just jotting down a quick thank you note, putting pen to paper can be truly intimidating. Many are afraid of writing badly, claim writer’s block or have a hard time getting started. However, writing is a skill that takes practice and patience. Nobody is going to write the great American novel on their first try, but there are some steps and exercises that you can take that might make the process more manageable.

Student in dorm room using DellXPS13.

One writing strategy is called freewriting, where you just start writing. There’s no regard for grammar or punctuation or spelling during this exercise. You may begin with a topic in mind but it’s totally acceptable for your mind to wander and for your sentences to stray as well. Freewriting is like getting into a car and driving with no destination in mind. It’s about the process of writing, rather than achieving a goal. In his essay “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” Jack Kerouac compares a writer to a jazz musician and advocates for replacing traditional sentence structure with a “vigorous space dash” to separate words like a “jazz musician drawing breath.” He goes on to advise people to “write ‘without consciousness’ in semi-trance” so that they’ll be able to freely express their thoughts without censorship or inhibitions. Freewriting, or “spontaneous prose” was one of the hallmarks of Kerouac’s work, and there’s no denying the way that the stream of consciousness-style writing affected his readers.

Read on to learn some of the ways that freewriting may benefit you as well as some strategies for incorporating this exercise into your own writing.

Benefits of Freewriting

The main benefit of freewriting is that you learn how to stop editing your thoughts and words as you write. When you freewrite, you allow thoughts and words to spill out, uninhibited. Many of us have a compulsion to edit our writing as we go. We’ll type a sentence, re-read it, decide it’s trash, and start over. Freewriting does not allow this compulsion to take hold. The goal is to write without stopping, looking back, or editing for a determined amount of time. The author may only reread what is written once the exercise is done and may find that some interesting thoughts and emotions have surfaced during the process.

Freewriting has a number of benefits for those who do it regularly:

  • Increases confidence
  • Generates honesty in writing
  • Excavates emotional themes in writing
  • Develops writing abilities and voice
  • Promotes the process of writing, rather than the outcome
  • Helps overcome writer’s block

Many writers find it easier to freewrite away from technology. Using a pen and paper forces them to focus on the physical act of writing, rather than constantly scanning the screen. It can be a relaxing, meditative practice if you truly allow yourself to become immersed in the process of writing.

Freewriting Ideas and Strategies

If you’re new to the concept of freewriting, you may find it difficult to incorporate into your writing routine. The first few times you try it might feel awkward or forced, so here are some freewriting ideas to help you get into a good creative headspace.

  • Write about a song you like. Think of a tune that puts you in a great mood, one that causes you to have a physical reaction while listening to it, and then write about why that song moves you so much. It’s helpful to listen to the song in question while completing this exercise.
  • Write in and about a noisy place. This one can be tricky, especially early on. It can be hard to tune out external noise and activity and focus on just writing. But by forcing yourself to write in a situation that might not be ideal, you learn how to block out distractions or write through them.
  • Write in the middle of the night. If you’re a night owl anyway, or the sort of person who regularly gets up in the middle of the night, use this time to practice freewriting instead of immediately going back to bed. Your drowsy state might make your writing less inhibited and you may find late night freewriting to be an excellent tool for becoming a better writer.
  • Write while standing up. You may be used to writing while sitting down at a desk or typing away on a computer. By simply changing your position, you may think about writing in a whole new way.
  • Write in the middle of a conversation or in the middle of a fun activity. These might be tricky to do, and you may want to warn whoever you’re speaking with ahead of time. But by pausing an activity and sitting down (or standing up) to freewrite, you’ll be allowing all the thoughts that are racing through your head during those activities to get out on paper. Allow the euphoria from your fun activity or your thoughts about the conversation you were having to lead your writing.

If you’re in the habit of writing every day and find yourself falling into predictable patterns, the exercise of freewriting might be a way to freshen up your process, unleash your creativity and make you a better overall writer. If you’re looking for some structure after that creative process, Microsoft 365 has a number of downloadable writing templates to help bring your ideas to life, whether you’re starting a journal or tracking your writing submissions. Use your freewriting exercises to lead your more structured writing, and allow some of those uninhibited thoughts and emotions to bring some color to the page.

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