1. Sazzle
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    Sazzle Member

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    "Free-writing"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sazzle, Nov 9, 2009.

    Hi all,

    I was advised by a friend of mine (a university English tutor) that 'free-writing' is a great idea to improve your overall writing as well as come up with initial ideas on plot or character etc.

    The idea is that you set yourself a time limit (I tried 15mins), find yourself a quiet, comfortable place to work, start the timer and DO NOT STOP writing until the time is up. Even if you write random words or 'I don't know what to write' you must keep writing the entire time.

    I thought this was a great idea and have tried it a couple of times however don't seem to be achieving anything from it personally. Perhaps it is because I am over-thinking it and expecting more from it than is realistic.

    Anyway - would be interested to hear if anyone has ever tried this before and what, if any, successes you have had through it.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed this form of writing could be useful in terms of idea generation, as it may free you from thinking too hard on style, for example, at the cost of productivity. However, it is probably worth mentioning that like stream-of-conscious writing, it would be extremely rare / impossible to produce noteworthy prose in this fashion as chances are that refining this raw material would provide better results. And more likely still that you'd need a few of these sessions to first train yourself in them, and the second in order to produce some ideas / an idea of merit. There could be merit in the exercise to simply relieve writer's block, but that's another discussion entirely.
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    A lot of writers (maybe most I've talked to) seem to do better by understanding the story they want to tell before they begin. Free-writing may or may not be useful to them at least maybe to jiggle loose an idea. This is foreign territory for me, since I don't and can't seem to write stories "about" ideas that are already formed. The key to this may be in how your imagination actually works. Mine works best by listening to the words and then kind of partnering up with them in a sort of a game. So, what I do might be a variant of this.

    I begin with a word or a phrase and then work outward from there without knowing where I'll end up. I don't continue to write without rewriting as I go, but that's because I think of "rewriting" as what "writing" really is (for me). It has to do with constantly trying to bring into focus something that's a little bit fuzzy.

    Doesn't take much to get from a single word to a phrase, then a thought that the phrase conjures up (which might or might not have anything to do with the single word or the phrase), then maybe a sentence or two about that. An image usually arises along about the second or third stab at it, then I write something that brings that image into some kind of focus. Either the image or the character perceiving it usually becomes my MC. My ideas grow in increments, and eventually there is a bend around which a storyline seems to take hold.

    Your "free-writing" task sounds a little like this, but maybe if it isn't working for you, it's because you're not listening to what it's trying to communicate. I don't believe a writer can write anything (even meaningless words) that isn't driven by something inside of him. My thought is that there's something within the words that naturally flow out of your "pen" and onto the page that will suggest in some way the theme of a story that's meaningful (to the writer). I feel like the method I use takes me out of myself and into a place that's more imaginative than I come by naturally. It places me at a much greater distance from whatever story emerges (where I can kind of sit in the audience and still offer advice), because I have no vested interest in some "idea" I start out trying to write a story about.
     
  4. Joran Selemis
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    Joran Selemis Member

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    I have a blog that I frequently write in, and pretty much every time I do it's just free writing. Unfortunately, this has carried over into my actual writing which means that I rarely reread or edit my work, which makes it quite poorly written.

    But yes, I would concur. I find free writing to be incredibly therapeutic, personally.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a bit like sitting on the toilet and straining for fifteen minutes if you're constipated. You might get something to move, but it's gonna be painful, and won't really make you look forward to the process in the future.

    You don't want to just squeeze out words. You want to stimulate your imagination, and that is the last thing you will get out of putting pressure on yourself under the clock. Instead, go back through your book collection, or watch some favorite movies on DVD, and keep two words in your head: "What if...?" Every time you come up with an appealing idea, scribble it down.

    Sorry about the vulgar metaphor, but it was the first thing that came to mind in those circumstances.
     
  6. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I only free write to work out ideas, come up with plot twists, or get a handle on a character. I generally don't just ramble along writing nothing of any value. If I am aiming to get an idea for a storyline down, I start out with something like "I'm thinking of writing a story that would start out in current times. My characters are so and so and they do this for a job...blah.blah.blah." I just let the ideas flow without a real direction, but just to get some stuff down on paper and then read it back to gather my thoughts and start the real writing. Sometimes I free write backgrounds for characters or act as if I were writing something in a journal as them.

    Free writing can help, but you have to want to produce something at the end of it. Otherwise you are just wasting 15 minutes of your life on drivel, when you could be reading something that might spark an idea, or researching an idea.

    Edit: To me free writing shouldn't even been timed. It's more like talking to yourself in written form.
     
  7. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    My English 101 teacher (second time around haha) had us do this at the begining of every class, only it was ten minutes. I thought it was fun, and could be theraputic, but not helpful at all as far as creativity goes. Somedays, it was torture to try and write for ten minutes, others i could have kept going. But I couldnt imagine doing it for a piece of work. Journaling about your characters or story could be similar to it, and I found that helpful.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    FYI, this isn't freewriting. Freewriting is writing without censoring or filtering, without trying to force your thinking along any particular avenues.

    On a personal note, I looked it up before posting this response, to make sure freewriting really was what I remembered it to be. I was shocked to discover that it is largely credited to Peter Elbow. He was my professor (actually co-professor, the class was taught by two instructors; I don't remember the other guy's name right now) in my first Creative Writing class in college, a course titled Writing and Experience back in the early 1970s. This was, in fact, the course I have spoken of before on this site, which I was not particularly impressed with.

    One thing about having attended that particular school - even the instructors I felt were duds are more or less famous.
     
  9. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I don’t know if I understand free-writing. Once I have a story in mind, it kinda feels like freedom of words. I always surprise myself with some of the plot twists that write themselves. But on the other hand, I have a lot of ideas before starting a scene. So it is very constrictive in one sense. And I always have a tone in mind for a character.

    If free-writing is typing without forethought, then I think it is useless.
     
  10. WaltzElf
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    WaltzElf Member

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    I have a great deal of difficulty understanding the value of free writing. Just about everything in the creation of a story requires forethought and research - writing is no less disciplined than dance, music, or any other art form.

    I think free writing is more of a gimmick to get students writing, or to give university students that "I am being so artistic right now" feel they crave, than a legitimate way to create something people will want to read.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The purpose is to shut down the internal critic. Many people start writing, but freeze up as soon as they start second-thinking what they write. The idea is that if you can tell that inner critic to shove it, you can go ahead and be creative.

    My problem with freewriting is that disconnects you from everything except the pressure to just keep the pen moving no matter what. Most of the freewriting exercises we did in class became a continuous stream of "I have no idea what to write, I can't think of anything and the clock is barely moving when will this be over I can't think of anything to write. My hand is cramping and I still can't think of anything..."
     
  12. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    The definition that Cog presented is interesting:

    I think censoring, filtering, trying, and forcing are all key reasons why this often doesn't go anywhere and seems to suggest the waste of time that Cog has likened to sitting on the pot trying to squeeze something out. But, I think there's another possibility for some writers that beginning without a foregone idea and simply throwing out some words, then moving them around and adding, subtracting, shifting, and expanding them can actually stimulate (if not generate) imagination. Whatever it means, once one's imagination is engaged, there's no reason to pursue an exercise that feels unproductive instead. But I wouldn't toss it out as a perfectly sound way to begin, if you don't have some other technique that works better. (Even the potty experience can sometimes improve one's attitude;)).
     
  13. WaltzElf
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    That's basically what I meant when I said it was a tool for students. As people develop as writers, at a certain point they find a way to shut down the internal critic without needing to write crazy amounts of trite first.

    I've never used free writing. I did suffer from that internal critic, but I was fortunate enough to land a professional writing job, and deadlines soon taught me I don't have the time to needlessly second guess myself.

    Other people will find their own solutions to that problem. Free writing might just be that solution for some of them, but I don't think it's a necessary exercise at all.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm in the cog/dragon/elf camp on this [what a nifty name-meld!]...
     
  15. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I guess I don't really have this problem, so my random notes (what I think of as focused free-writing)on what ever subject I am dealing with feel like free-writing to me. Usually when I write things just flow. When it stops flowing I take a time out to try and work out the issues in a separate word doc, running through multiple scenarios and ideas before I put them into the actual story.
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think a better exercise is one that I've mentioned before. The free writing thing doesn't work for me.

    Here is a good way to generate ideas. I will do a live session right now as I type.

    1. Think of an everyday situation.
    2. Think of the worst thing that could happen.
    3. Give the character a goal and a motivation to reach that goal.
    4. Make clear the consequences if she fails to reach that goal.
    5. Keep thinking of the next worst thing that could happen.


    I will start. Sara is driving to work. Her motivation is she can't be late again or she will get fired. So her goal is to get to work on time.

    I need to think of things that can go wrong. She gets stuck at a traffic light. While waiting for the light to turn green, a dead body slams on her hood and windshield, shattering it. Panicked she gets out of the car to check the person's pulse. She's going to be late for sure now. New goal is to call the police.

    I need to think of another bad thing that can happen. She looks up to see where the person fell from and spots a broken window on the side of an old building. A man stares down at her. He's holding a gun. He points and yells, "Get her."

    New goal. Get the hell out of there. Motivation is survival.

    This could have gone so many ways. If I keep thinking of bad things that can happen to deter her from reaching her goal, I eventually start to develop a story. The plot starts coming to me. I need to figure out why the man killed the person. Who the person was. Maybe the person turns out to be the Mayor. The police want to question Sarah now because she ran from the crime scene, and it was her car the Mayor plopped on.

    You get the idea. It's a fun exercise.
     
  17. breakingwave
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    breakingwave Member

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    Cogito:
    I had to come back and comment, I tend to read much here but I always know you are going to say something informative. When I read your post about sitting on the bowl, I nearly fell of my chair laughing but you really did stress a good point and even I could get it.
     
  18. Robert Lipscombe
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    Robert Lipscombe Member

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    the important thing is to be relaxed and ready to write..so if nothing comes to mind you can write those very words 'nothing comes to mind' and you should then find that these words will bring others words in their wake, even if only 'still nothing to write'..which will probably lead to 'nothing is written' and if that doesn't resonate and trigger your imagination I guess you'd better leave it
    best wishes
     
  19. Sazzle
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    Sazzle Member

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    Thanks everyone!

    As always some really useful points and opinions. That's why I like this forum so much, it's always a learning curve!

    Architectus - thanks for your writing idea particularly, I will certainly try this one out, seems like a great idea to develop initial plot ideas!
     

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