University Writing Center Blog

Posted on October 16th, 2014 in Writing Strategies by Jennifer Mahoney

by Megan Gudeman, Student Consultant, University Writing Center

I live with two very science-minded roommates. One is studying Nursing, and the other one is in Pre-Med, which, as you can imagine, often leads us to very interesting discussions on how to write. Take yesterday, for example, when both of them had simultaneously approached me to ask, “How do you freewrite?”

I find this to be a really good question, particularly when the purpose of freewriting is just to get all of your ideas out of your head and onto a paper, and you are someone who, like my roommates, cannot write without getting to a point or an end goal. So then real question to ask is, how can we make freewriting easier for the people who think too much?

Well, ironically, I have thought a lot about it, and I’ve compiled a handy-dandy list of tips which may help you during your freewriting process:

  1. Turn off All Distractions. Freewriting is meant to be you, the page, and your thoughts. That being said, however, if you focus better with some background noise, feel free to play music you know works for you, or use a site like Coffivity, a free website that plays a variety of background noise that you can choose from to listen to as you write. The purpose of this is to help you focus, so whatever works best for you, do it.
  2. Set a Timer. If you are freewriting for the first time, set it for just a few minutes to five minutes. If your attention span is long enough, set your timer to ten minutes. Give yourself as much time as you think you can sit down and consecutively write without letting your mind wander too much or without getting bored.
  3. Give Yourself a Topic/Prompt and write it down on the top of the paper. Use the topic you think you’re going to use for your paper, use the one your professor has given you, ask yourself a question or use whatever you’re going to write about, but put whatever your main idea is at top of your freewriting page so you can look back at it if you find yourself getting off-track or if you forget what your original thought was.
  4. Write. And don’t stop. Write everything you know about the topic, and then some. Ask questions that you have, be honest about what you don’t know and what research you know you need to do. Write what you’re looking for. What you want to say, what you believe, how you feel about this topic and why. Pull and pick out every single thing you know in your brain that deals with your topic, in order to form a continuous flow of thought from brain to text.
  5. Do Not Edit/Revise. It will be hard, but ignore your inner editor as you freewrite. Don’t worry about going back to correct yourself; you can do that later, after you’ve gotten your thoughts out. You’ll never get everything you know out of your head if you keep going back to edit what you’ve already written. There’s not enough time. Just write. Don’t look back and don’t worry how it all sounds. Unless you want to show somebody else what you’ve written, no one else will see this except you, so it’s all okay. Use whatever language you have and what comes to mind, and worry about clarity later.
  6. Take a Break. When you’re done and the timer goes off, shake your hands out. Stand up. Walk around. Get something to drink, to eat. Reward yourself after a good freewriting session. Relax.
  7. Feel Free to Try Again. You do not have to have only one freewriting session. If you are like me and you find you cannot stay focused on one thing for an extended amount of time, break your freewriting sessions up into little sections and take a break between each to allow your mind to do what it wants to do: wander. Then, once you are refreshed, hit the grindstone again. Do it as many times as you want, and when you have written everything you know, then you can go back to edit, revise, etc., to your heart’s content.

Freewriting can be an exhausting, but rewarding part of your writing process. Do not let it daunt you. Remember, the less you question yourself, the easier it is. Have fun!