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The Art of Free Writing

Kanzi Kamel By Kanzi Kamel Published on November 3, 2015

My elementary-school teachers were always fond of free writing. “It’ll teach you not to doubt yourself,” some said. “It’ll help you funnel your creative energies,” said others. Free writing is simply spending an allotted period of time writing without thinking about grammar, structure, spelling or even logic at times. So, to convey to you the benefits of free writing, I’m going to spend the next 10 minutes in unrestrained conversation with you, the reader, and my thoughts. Let’s see if my school teachers were right …

Free writing is an excellent way to overcome writer’s block, or even self-criticism. Don’t like the sentence you just wrote? It’s too late, you’ve already written it. There’s nothing to be done, and you’ll just have to move on to write something else. Unlike brainstorming, free writing is paragraph-style. You don’t simply list ideas or topics, but instead write them out in sentences that are often too long, but it hardly matters because it’s just a draft of a draft of a draft. Seven-year-old me never submitted free writing assignments to teachers.

First off, a topic is assigned. Here, for instance, the topic is free writing. (If you haven’t caught on to that by now, we can assume one of two things: I’m a terrible free writer, or you need to work on your inference skills.) Then comes the task: spend ten minutes writing about free writing. And thus you spend the next 600 seconds in an almost crazed mind vomit, penning down anything and everything you know about free writing.

The first minute makes you feel like you’ve forgotten your language skills. Every word is like dredging up the lost vocabulary of your spelling bee days, and even then, you’re not sure you spelled the word dredging correctly, and you’re not supposed to dwell on spelling, but then again, you’ve just spent the past 42 words and run-on sentence talking about it. In the second minute, you begin to notice your hand clenches ever so slightly around your pen, or perhaps presses just a little too hard on your keyboard. Your foot is tapping and your lower lip begins to ache with how hard your teeth are clenching down on it. Free writing is stressful, you deduce. But then, much like how your body begins to adapt to one too many beers, you find that your tolerance is improving. The words begin to flow, and the ideas begin to make sense.

This is amazing, you think. Your writer’s block is gone. So many ideas are flowing through. You’ve just come up with a fantastic concept for your next novel about a man who travels through time and galaxies in a telephone box. Oh wait, that one’s taken. How about a time-traveling woman? With only one shoe. Yes, it’s genius.

Many well-known authors practice free writing daily. Dorothea Brande was one of the earliest supporters of the idea: in her 1934 book, Becoming a Writer, she advises readers to sit and write for 30 minutes every morning. Peter Elbow and Julia Cameron have also advocated the idea.

See that? I just cheated. Wikipedia is not allowed during a free-writing session, but then again, my 10 minutes are up.

So tell me, do you feel inspired? 

Egyptian-American food enthusiast born in Chicago, raised in Beirut, and living in Dublin. Multitasker at Bookwitty. Intimately familiar with the term "identity crisis".