Hello and welcome to Day 11 of the 100 Day Writing Challenge. If you’re just joining me and you have no idea what this is about, go back, go back! Go and find the 100 Day Writing Challenge introduction, check it out, listen to that, then, if you like what you hear, you can start with day 1. Don’t jump aboard midstream for pity’s sake, you rebel you.
Right. Now I’ve shooed away some imaginary interlopers, welcome to Day 11. I want to call it Week 2, but weeks aren’t ten days long, this isn’t revolutionary France. And much as my love for the metric system runs to my very marrow if I start saying Week 2, Day 11 you’ll feel like you missed parts – wait, was there a Week 1 Day 11, what’s going on – and I’ll have no one to blame for my confusing naming conventions but me.
It’s Day 11. And now you’ve got lists down pat, now the technique is in there and you see how you can use it both to harvest ideas and to – gasp – have fun, I want to introduce you to – or reintroduce you to, if you’ve done creative writing exercises with me before – my other favourite technique, one that I think is just so solid that it will always, always be useful, whether you’re starting on something new, whether you’ve been away from writing for a few weeks and you’ve lost a bit of confidence, whether you’re up to your windpipe in a big grown-up writing project and you need a palette cleanser, whatever, it is there. It’s the squat of creative writing exercises.
Now that analogy works because, like doing squats, if this exercise is all you do you’ll end up with very limited development, and, like squats, it’s mostly not an end in itself. It’s a form of training, and it works as a force multiplier on any other writing you care to do.
So what I’m talking about is a technique called a freewrite. You write for a set, short amount of time – in our case, ten minutes – without planning ahead what you’re going to write about, you don’t ever touch the backspace key or cross out what you’ve written, you give yourself permission to make spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, you’re free to be cliched, boring, to repeat yourself, to be inconsistent, to make no sense, to repeat yourself, whatever.
The one cast iron rule is: keep writing. Keep the pen moving or your fingers typing. Don’t pause. Don’t think, even. Move your fingers and trust that the words will come. You can free associate. You don’t have to write in full sentences or use capital letters. If you lose your thread or can’t think of anything you can just write blocked blocked blocked until something comes or write about feeling stuck or write about something you can see.
It’s kind of hard to convey just how free you are when you’re doing a freewrite. Which can make it sound like an anti-exercise, but you do have restrictions. You should be writing fast – almost as fast as you physically can.
Really what we’re doing is practising voluntarily suppressing the critical, evaluatory mode of thinking. It’s hard, especially if you’re not used to it, but with repeated efforts, you get better at it. And it… well, look, I’ve gone on about it enough. Probably best if we dive right in and you can see for yourself.
So. Ten minutes, freewriting. Write down whatever comes out, might be fiction, might be stream of consciousness, might be a narrator talking, might be nonsense. Doesn’t matter. But you’re going to let yourself be bad, you’re not going to edit it at all, and more than anything else you’re going to keep that pen moving. Ok?
Are you ready? Three, two, one… go.
And that’s it. How was that for you?
Some people love freewrites. Some people hate them. Like, really resent my suggesting them. For some people the process feels… I want to say frivolous, somehow? Like we’re not doing real writing. But if that’s a feeling that comes up for you, I think it’s really valuable to notice that. That there’s part of your brain that monitors your output and evaluates it on the basis of whether or not what you’re producing is ‘proper writing’. That tendency, to me, is really interesting for you to gently enquire into.
Some people start off not liking freewrites and come to enjoy them. Some people have good days and bad days, and in fact a freewrite can serve as a useful barometer of what kind of mood they’re in. You know, if they’re feeling a bit bruised and feel critical the freewrite will bring that out. If they’re feeling playful, they’ll enjoy it more. So a freewrite can be a way of checking in with yourself.
What did you come out with? Have a look back over what you’ve written. Was that stuff that you consciously had on your mind ten minutes ago? Or is some of it unfamiliar to you?
There is, I should say, nothing mystic about the process. I’m not suggesting you’re tapping into some great elemental force nor that you’re channelling your hitherto suppressed unconscious mind. But I do think, for the reasons I’ve shared above, and for others that we’ll get into, it’s a useful tool, and training with it, like we did today, can build up your creative toughness and flexibility in a way that really helps when you come to do exercises that might make you feel a bit more vulnerable, later on.
Anyway, I’ve said enough. I want to honour your time, so off with you. I’ll see you again tomorrow for Day 12.