by Annie Rose Stathes
Published May 1, 2013
Writers use the process of free writing to clear their minds, engage their creative thinking, and develop a deeper understanding of the text. For graduate students, free writing can be a great way to switch gears mentally from one subject to another, develop ideas for a paper or project, explore difficult or dynamic material, explore the relationship between different materials and sources, or relax the mind before studying for or taking a test.
Guidelines for Free Writing
1. There are No Rules:
The most important guideline for free writing is there are no strict rules. They key to free writing successfully is allowing your mind to wander, explore, and create without the intention of a specific outcome.
2. Use tools that work for you:
Use blank paper, lined paper, colored paper, or scrap paper; pens, pencils, or markers (one color or several colors); notebooks, loose-leaf paper, or tablets; hand-writing or electronic-typing. Different tools appeal to different people—use what inspires you.
3. Avoid correcting errors or re-reading materials while free writing:
Allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind without correcting, modifying, limiting, or censoring the content.
4. Create the Right Environment:
If you plan on free writing (or writing) regularly, create an environment conducive to free-thought. Find a comfortable chair and desk; find materials (pens, markers, journals, etc.) that inspire you to write and engage in the creative process; surround yourself with objects, sounds, and images that inspire and motivate you (and if simplicity inspires and motivates you, keep your space clean, clear, and simple); and find a space that allows you to engage in the process of free writing without interruption.
The Free Writing Process
Free writing clears the mind, unleashes the subconscious, and sparks creativity. The following are steps to take during a free writing session.
1. Find a blank sheet of paper and a pen, pencil, or marker.
2. Set a timer or alarm for 10 minutes and start to write. Commit to writing for the full ten minutes without stopping.
3. Write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. If nothing comes to mind, write the same thing (a word or phrase, for example) over and over again until something else pops into your head.
4. If you feel discouraged, stuck, or unsure of what to write, doodle. Draw pictures, scribbles, and anything else that comes easily and naturally.
5. Don’t re-read anything you’ve written or stop to make corrections for the entire 10 minutes.
6. At the end of the 10 minutes, take some time to reflect. What information or thoughts became clear? What did you learn? Does your mind feel more engaged, clear, and free?
7. If you need more time to write, take another 10-20 minutes to do so.
Challenge yourself to set aside a few minutes daily to free write. Just keep that pencil moving and the creativity is bound to cascade from your fingertips. As the habit continues, you’ll likely notice your innate writing abilities developing time.
Term, Sentence, Paragraph, or Passage-Focused Free Writing
Academic writers occasionally use free writing to better understand a term, phrase, paragraph, or passage. Here are some suggestions for the process of free writing about a particular piece of writing.
1. Identify a term or piece of writing that you would like to explore and/or better understand.
2. Find a blank piece of paper and a pen, pencil, or marker.
3. Write the term, phrase, paragraph, or passage on the piece of paper.
4. Look up words or terms that you don’t know or understand and write their definitions on the same piece of paper.
5. Set a timer or alarm for 20-30 minutes and start to write. Commit to writing for the full 20-30 minutes without stopping.
6. Begin your writing by re-writing the term, phrase, sentence, paragraph or passage you wish to understand and/or explore.
7. Begin to free write. As you’re writing, think of the piece of writing’s key terms, themes, and meanings, but also allow your mind to wander.
8. If you feel called to do so, draw graphs, charts, diagrams, and other images that help you understand the idea(s) better.
9. If your mind starts to go blank, re-read the term, phrase, paragraph, or passage you wish to better understand and write it on your piece of paper once again.
10. Avoid stopping to make corrections, look up words, or intentionally think about the term, phrase, paragraph, or passage.
Remember while you’re exploring a particular term, phrase, paragraph, or passage, you want to let your mind wander to seemingly unrelated places. Keep the term, phrase, paragraph, or passage in mind, but let your writing go where it goes. If your writing naturally stays focused on the term, phrase, paragraph, or passage, that’s fine too.
Use free writing to help overcome writers block while developing your personal statement for your graduate application, thesis or dissertation. Use the ideas you develop during this exercise to inform your formal writing process, or use it to explore topics and language choices to enhance an existing essay or passage.
Learn more about the Writing Process
Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado