Free writing has traditionally been seen as a prewriting technique in academic environments, in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without worrying about rhetorical concerns or conventions and mechanics, sometimes working from a specific prompt provided by a teacher. While free writing often produces raw, or even unusable material, it can help writers overcome writing blocks and build confidence by allowing them to practice text-production phases of the writing process without fear of censure. Some writers even use the technique to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing. Free writing is not the same as automatic writing.
Unlike brainstorming where ideas are simply listed, in freewriting one writes sentences to form a paragraph about whatever comes to mind.
Dorothea Brande was an early proponent of freewriting. In her book Becoming a Writer (1934), she advises readers to sit and write for 30 minutes every morning, as fast as they can.
The technique involves continuous writing, usually for a predetermined period of time (often five to fifteen minutes). The writer writes without regard to spelling, grammar, etc., and makes no corrections. If the writer reaches a point where they can't think of anything to write, it is presumed they will write that they can't think of anything or repeat words, until they find another line of thought. The writer freely strays off topic, letting thoughts lead where they may. At times, a writer may also do a focused freewrite, letting a chosen topic structure their thoughts. Expanding from this topic, the thoughts may stray to make connections and create more abstract views on the topic. This technique helps a writer explore a particular subject before putting ideas into a more basic context.
Freewriting is often done on a daily basis as a part of the writer's daily routine. Also, students in many writing courses are assigned to do such daily writing exercises.
The writing does not have to be done with pen and paper. A technique known as Freeblogging combines blogging with free-writing with the rules changed so that the writer does not stop typing for long periods of time. The end result may or may not be shared with the public.
Free writing is based on a presumption that, while everybody has something to say and the ability to say it, the mental wellspring may be blocked by apathy, self-criticism, resentment, anxiety about deadlines, fear of failure or censure, or other forms of resistance. The accepted rules of free-writing enable a writer to build up enough momentum to blast past blocks into uninhibited flow, the concept outlined by writing teachers such as Louise Dunlap, Peter Elbow, and Natalie Goldberg.
Use in education
Often free-writing workshops focus on self-expression, and are sometimes even used in teaching to elementary school children. There is no common consensus on the acceptance of this technique.
- Give yourself a time limit. Write for one or ten or twenty minutes, and then stop.
- Keep your hand moving until the time is up. Do not pause to stare into space or to read what you've written. Write quickly but not in a hurry.
- Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style. Nobody else needs to read what you produce here. The correctness and quality of what you write do not matter; the act of writing does.
- If you get off the topic or run out of ideas, keep writing anyway. If necessary, write nonsense or whatever comes into your head, or simply scribble: anything to keep the hand moving.
- If you feel bored or uncomfortable as you're writing, ask yourself what's bothering you and write about that.
- When the time is up, look over what you've written, and mark passages that contain ideas or phrases that might be worth keeping or elaborating on in a subsequent free-writing session.
Goldberg's rules appear to be based on those developed by Jack Kerouac, whom she cites several times. Kerouac developed 30 "rules" in his Belief & Technique for Modern Prose. While Kerouac's "rules" are elliptical and even cryptic for beginning writers, they are more comprehensive than Goldberg's for those who have practised prose writing for some time. Kerouac supplemented these with his Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, and together they form the basis of his prose writing method, a form of narrative stream of consciousness. Kerouac himself cites the "trance writing" of William Butler Yeats as a precursor of his own practice.
Goldberg's rules, which are infused with the study and practice of Zen Buddhism, make the process of free writing more accessible for a beginner and are perhaps less extreme than those of Kerouac, although they are still tinged with an element of mysticism.
- Marshall, Sharon. (2009). A case for private freewriting in the classroom. In Vilardi, Teresa; Mary Change (Eds.), Writing-based teaching: Essential practices and enduring questions; Albany, NY: State University of New York Press (pp. 7–24).
- Collins, Vicki Tolar. (2000). Freewriting in the middle: Self-help for college writers across the curriculum. In Smith, Jane Bowman; Kathleen Blake Yancey (eds.), Self-assessment and development in writing: A collaborative inquiry; Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press (pp. 105–124)
- Song, Minjong. (1998). Experimental study of the effect of controlled vs. free writing and different feedback types on writing quality and writing apprehension of EFL college students. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 423 703.
- Cole, A.L. (2001). "The Thesis Journey: Travelling with Charley". Brock Education. 13 (1): 1–13. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
- Robinson, L. (1967). "Guided writing and free writing". Cite journal requires
- Ross, J.; Robinson, Lois (1967). "Guided Writing and Free Writing: A Textbook in Composition for English as a Second Language". TESOL Quarterly. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 2. 1 (2): 58–60. doi:10.2307/3585756. JSTOR 3585756.
- Klingman, A. (1985). "Free Writing: Evaluation of a Preventive Program with Elementary School Children". Journal of School Psychology. 23 (2): 167–75. doi:10.1016/0022-4405(85)90007-X. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
- Goldberg, N. (1986). "Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within". Retrieved April 26, 2008. Cite journal requires
- Goldberg, N. (1990). Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. Bantam Dell Pub Group.
- Miller, M.M. "The Spice of Writing: Extracurricular Projects for Technical Writers". IPCC 92 Santa Fe. Crossing Frontiers. Conference Record. pp. 384–390. doi:10.1109/IPCC.1992.673061. ISBN 0-7803-0788-7.
- "Kerouac on technique".
- "Kerouac, Spontaneous Prose".
- Goldberg, Natalie (1986). "Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within". Cite journal requires