When I write without knowing what I want to say, what comes out is bad. Embarrassingly bad. It’s stiff and for some reason a really horrible imitation of Jane Austen. Being in no way British and having only read one of her novels, I’m not sure why this is. My theory is that my brain reverts to the days of my college British lit class. It was one of my favorites.
My bad British imitation isn’t the problem, only a symptom. The problem is that I’m not in there. I regurgitate everything I’ve read because I don’t know what I want to say. It’s awful stuff but my confused brain leaps to what’s familiar.
I’ve learned to fix this through free writing which comes with some other benefits.
Free Writing Generates Ideas
When you don’t know what you want to say, start writing. See what comes out. Don’t sit there and stare at the page. Write down the first thing that comes to mind and keep going.
Still drawing a blank? It’s like when someone tells you not to think about pink elephants. Pink elephants are everywhere. I say write about something, anything and suddenly there isn’t a single thing in the world to write about.
If that happens, write about what’s in front of you.
Example: My cell phone is next to me and it’s dirty. Or maybe those are scratches. Like something clawed it. Or is trying to claw its way out of it?
See? Went from a boring, scratched phone to a cage for some technological beast hell bent on escaping. Is it a good idea? Maybe. Will I use it? Probably not.
But now you’ve fallen into a creative zone. You can stumble around in there until you bump into an idea you will use.
Free Writing Relaxes You
Well, it relaxes you after you get past the initial panic. You’ll settle into a chaotic rhythm, bouncing from one topic to the next. For me, this vaporizes my British ghosts. My subconscious takes over and I come back out again.
In a way, it’s like being in a trance. You aren’t thinking, just writing. You get lost in it. Your inner editor fades away and you don’t feel good or bad about what you’re writing.
It may not seem like you’re accomplishing much, but you are.
Free Writing Gets the Extraneous Crap Out
The only rule for free writing is there are no rules. Just write. Anything and everything goes. Here you can get out anything you’ve been wanting to say. It doesn’t even have to be related to your story.
Maybe it’s just some really crappy writing you need to get out of your system. Maybe you’ve had an idea in your head and you need to find out if it will even work. Write it all down. You can get out all the leftover idea crumbs so they don’t end up in your story, weighing it down.
You’re purging your mind of all the things that get in the way of your story so you can find the things you do need.
Like when I was 12 and my parents made me clean my room. I was always surprised to find that I had carpet. I’d find something important I thought was gone forever or that I’d been needing. Not, of course, that I’d ever admit it to them.
Free Writing is Therapeutic
This almost belongs with the section on extraneous crap but it’s important enough to earn its own section.
Writing is personal, a reflection or piece of your soul. It’s important to keep your soul and mind in good writing condition.
Life feeds our creative work. It can also impair it. Use free writing as a way to work through whatever has got you down. You’ll feel better and you may even find a story in all your pain or frustration. Let’s face it, stories born of an author’s experiences, especially painful ones, are often the best.
Free Writing Is a Good Way to Outline
This is especially true for people leery of the outline. It lets you plan your story without feeling confined.
You might end up with too many ideas but better too much to work with than not enough.
And you can always cut out what you don’t need later or, if you do enjoy a good outline, use your free writing to fill in the blanks.
Free writing earned its name for good reason. It’s a chance for you to forget all of the rules, your readers, your critics, and see what happens. Use it to practice new techniques, try out ideas, vent about people or issues that irritate you. Ideas are born here and they die here. You discover things about yourself you didn’t know before. It’s an opportunity to experiment and grow or clear your. However you use it, have fun with it.