6 Steps to a Productive Session

Before writing this post, I had no idea where to start. So what did I do? I sat down at my computer for 10 minutes and typed as much as I could on the reasons why I free write. The result wasn’t polished enough to post here, but it got me thinking. And that is the point of free writing—to remove the obstacles that block your creativity and get you thinking.
Also known as “stream of consciousness writing,” free writing is not that different from those grade-school exercises where the teacher would ask you to take out a piece of paper and write whatever you wanted on a topic until she called time. I used to hate it when my teacher would snatch up my paper before I was done, but what I didn’t realize then was that free writing isn’t about producing perfect prose. It’s about collecting and connecting your thoughts, and silencing that critical voice inside that keeps you from fully expressing yourself.

Beating writer’s block
Novelist Ernest Hemingway once said that the most frightening thing he ever encountered was a “blank sheet of paper.” And most of us writers can relate. Just because we love to write doesn’t mean it always comes easily. Sure, there are days when the creativity flows freely, and eloquent words and phrases tumble out of nowhere. But more often than not, you’ll probably find yourself staring at a blank document on your desktop with a deadline looming and no idea what to write or how to start. It can be paralyzing.
That’s where free writing helps because it pushes you to get words on paper without judging or restricting yourself. It distracts you from whatever is standing in your way—anxiety, frustration or just lack of inspiration—and forces you to focus on the simple act of writing. Best of all, it allows you to explore what you want to say before you have to commit to how to say it.
Clearing your mind
After years of rejecting free writing as a pointless exercise, I picked it up again out of necessity. I used to be the kind of writer known as a “bleeder”—a perfectionist who agonizes over every word and can’t move on to the next sentence or paragraph until the previous one is perfect. But I soon realized that if I wanted to write for a living I had to be able to meet deadlines, so free writing became my fallback. Now anytime I get hung up on a lead or stuck on a story, I take 10 minutes to rip out whatever is on my mind—and I always come away with fresh ideas.
Ready to give free writing a try? Here are 6 steps to help you get the most out of your session.

  1. Give yourself a time limit. Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes and start writing whatever comes into your brain—no matter how mundane, silly or trivial it seems.
  2. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Try to disengage from your inner editor and focus on the act of writing itself. Getting your thoughts down is what matters, not getting it perfect.
  3. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing or typing. Keep your hands moving. Fight the urge to mull over words and phrases or read over what you’ve written.
  4. Feel free to go off on tangents if that’s where your mind takes you. If you run out of ideas, scribble nonsense until something else pops into your head.
  5. When the buzzer goes off, stop! Take a deep breath and read what you have written. Don’t cringe—it’s probably not as bad you think it is. In fact, you may even be pleasantly surprised by what’s there.
  6. Go through and look for “golden nuggets”— ideas and phrases that you’ll want to remember or elaborate on later.

Even if the material from your free writing session is so raw that it goes straight into the trash, it still helps to get yourself thinking about what you want to write and expressing your ideas on paper. Getting started is the hardest part of any creative task. As author Mary Heaton Vorse once said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” So what are you waiting for? Sit down and start writing! Once you free your mind, the words will follow.