Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Free-writing... what's so good about it anyway?

Free-writing... what's so good about it anyway?

Sometimes people ask why I blog. For me, it is for the same reason that many people practice Morning Pages or free-writing. It gets me in the zone, gets the words flowing and allows me to do a brain dump of ideas that wouldn't have a place anywhere else. My blog is kind of an orphanage for ideas, but I like to think it might be a happy one, perhaps with singing nuns and chocolate puddings... Not the worst place an idea could end up. 

Morning pages and free-writing are both ways of clearing out the clutter of your mind and also calling your subconscious to the fore. Once the psychological housekeeping is done, it is easier to get on with the current project. Granted I neither free-write nor blog often enough. However, this practice has been discussed in a couple of workshops I've attended recently and I feel the need to brain dump about it here. 

The following is 20 minutes (or two pages) of free-writing I did this morning... on the subject of free-writing


(With minimal editing from page to blog - just enough so there are actually proper sentences and punctuation allowing it to make some sense - but otherwise, quite raw. Consider yourself warned.)

I keep hearing about the practices of Morning Pages or free-writing. It's a tool that many writers use to get into the zone by out-writing their internal editor, clear the mind, and draw ideas out of their subconscious. 

The rules of free-writing


There are few rules; simply that: 
  1. You either write for a set number of pages or to a set time 
  2. You write in long-hand 
  3. You write whatever thoughts glide through your mind without stopping
  4. You don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation
  5. You keep your hand moving all the time. 
This is all just to tap into the subconscious, open up the pathways and let the drawbridge down to the castle of your creativity. This is an essential part of being a writer, to draw from your subconscious. Using your imagination and observations from the world around you, and from it, form characters, stories and build worlds so real that we might believe they are.

So what's the deal with Morning Pages?


Morning Pages is fully discussed in the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It is the practice of writing three pages of text every morning by hand. By hand is important and I've talked about this before in an earlier post Mechanical pencil - immediate muse. The physical act of writing gets the brain working and for some of us, sparks the creativity we need to do our work, no matter how beige you might wake up feeling that morning. 

When you have to work, you have to work. The muse is a slovenly cow and we don't share the same work ethic. So, in Morning Pages you can write about absolutely anything you like. Whatever pops into your head. One rule is that you simply keep your hand moving all the time and don't let it stop, even if there is nothing going on in your head, you just write that. There is nothing going on in my head. (That's a gem to look back on. But nonetheless.) 

Eventually, little things do pop up and there could be something there. Something you might use. For example, you could free-write about a problem you or your character are facing. You could ask the question of them, 'what would you do if xyz...' and then write without stopping on that subject.

Further drivel on free-writing


Free-writing is much like Morning Pages but rather than a set number of pages it is a timed exercise. I set my timer for nine minutes - single digits are not so daunting - and then write. Frankly, I haven't developed any discipline over these activities but each time I've done it, I've got something from it and I'm using it more and more.

It can be a powerful tool to get to know your characters and hear their voices. It helps to move the plot forward by finding the story or solution which sometimes drops right out of your subconscious. It is even just a handy way to set yourself up for the day at your desk.

More on the joys of mechanical pencils


The key of it all is to get your brain into the zone as fast as you can and prepare yourself for your work. My tutor insisted free-writing or Morning Pages was best done by pencil - so remembering that, I've switched from ball-point to mechanical pencil. By Jove - I believe she is right! I've missed you old friend! It's this glorious sound as the pencil strikes the paper and makes shapes. It just sounds like bustling activity, like efficiency, like productivity!

Some ways to use free-writing


  1. Get to know your characters voice by writing a journal entry from their perspective, or, writing a letter from them to you.
  2. Discover their character arc by putting 'I want...' and writing for a few minutes, then, 'But I really need...' and writing for a few more minutes. 
  3. Write your way out of the problem you or your character are trying to solve, e.g. 'I've been backed into an alleyway by a pack of rabid dogs and there is no way out so I...'

What a total load of tosh


Dear reader, are you still with me? Have you read this far? Are you sitting in the waiting room at the dentist with only a 20 year old Woman's Weekly for reading fodder? Have you nothing better to do? What utter rubbish you have just read. I would apologise but this is the point of free-writing. It doesn't matter what falls out of your head, this is not making art. This is doing some light housekeeping before the work day begins. If you stumble upon a gem as you go, fantastic, and certainly, it pays dividends in strengthening the voice of your characters, but it is essentially a meditation and to be done with free abandon.

For me now, the drawbridge is lowered and I've got a nasty little character to flesh out in my story. I hope you might give free-writing a try for yourself and then go forth and create.