All You Have to Do is Write

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Writing, at heart, is simple.

All you have to do is put pen to paper, one word at a time. As Margaret Atwood says, “A word after a word after a word is power.”

And yet, we make it hard. We resist that power. We make judgements about ourselves and our pages. Which, of course, just makes it harder.

I’m pondering all this because I’m taking a class called The Devoted Writer from Cynthia Morris. The heart of the class is free writing for 15 minutes every day. She provides a prompt, and we write to it. Simple, right?

Well, yeah, it is, actually. There’s a lot of great supporting information about free writing and mind mapping in the class (I’m only two days in, so I’m excited to see what else she covers) but the heart of the class is, I repeat, free writing for 15 minutes a day.

I know free writing. You know free writing. You set a timer and move your hand across the page without stopping, no matter what. If you get stuck instead of stopping and staring off into space you keep writing. No matter what.

I’ve used free writing a lot for brainstorming and idea generating, warm-ups, stuff like that. But I’ve never used it for my “real” writing–when I’m working on a novel or a blog post (like right now). Because, you know, those things are real writing. Serious. Important. Too serious and important for silly ole free writing.

But here’s what Cynthia Says about free writing:

“This is the method to write anything, anytime, for any purpose. And, this practice powerfully, yet simply sets aside the inner critic to bring you into a writualistic space.”

(She adds a “w” to the word ritual, to make it writual, which I love.)

When I started the class, it was with the intention to do the free writing exercises to help loosen me up, nab ideas, all the usual suspects. I had no intention of using it for anything else. But Cynthia’s enthusiasm is contagious and so I’ve been experimenting with it.  I gotta tell you, it is pretty magical.

I’ve always been a proponent of fast writing–or at least the idea of it. But it is too easy for me to fall into the rut of fast writing for a few minutes and then taking a break.  Because there’s fast writing and free writing.  With free writing, you are committed to keep going until the timer goes off. With fast writing, you can stop yourself any time. But applying the guidelines of free writing to any kind of writing project is really quite liberating. And efficient. My God, with concentrated bursts you can get a hell of a lot of writing done.

You need a prompt to free write and there are tons all over the internet. You can also make up your own–which is especially helpful for when you are engaged in a novel or story. (This morning I needed insight into a character’s issue. I started with the prompt, Amos has a problem.)

So go try it right now, even if you’ve tried it before and think it is stupid, or only for journal writers, or whatever. The key is to keep your hand moving across the page or fingers clattering across the typewriter.  If you get stuck, I find a useful phrase is “and then.” Just write that over and over again until you get back on track. And remember, go with what comes out. Your words don’t have to relate to the prompt at all. It is just a starting point. Start with 15 minutes and then experiment. For writing chapters or scenes, maybe 20 or 25 minutes might work better for you. The key is to keep your fingers move across the keyboard, or the pen moving across the page. Do not stop! I cannot stress that enough.

And please do try it on whatever project you’ve got going. I used it for this blog post. Nailed it in one session–though of course I did need to go back and edit. Because, of course.

Let me know how it is working for you or if you have any questions in the comments. They’ve been wonky in the past but seem to be okay now. One note: you do need to click on the individual page of the post in order to comment.

Thanks for reading!

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Christine GravesDerek AyreCharlotte Rains DixonAmanda Moon Recent comment authors
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Amanda Moon
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I tried this today. 15 minutes, and long hand, because I’m having a really hard time maintaining concentration while on my computer. I’ve been really stuck on the re-write of the novel I’m working on, and I’m not even making any major changes. This is supposed to be a final polishing before I send it off. It’s written in 3rd person, a very conscious choice for the first draft. But I’ve been wondering if it should be 1st. So, for my prompt, I took the first scene of the book and wrote it in first. When the timer went off… Read more »

Derek Ayre
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This post seems to come at the right time for me and I have found it to be of great value.. I have found myself using pen and paper more recently rather than the keyboard. I guess I like it because I can doodle along with it. I doodle if ideas are hitting me too hard and fast, because I have discovered on a couple of occasions that ideas come so fast, that my brain can’t keep up and my mind can go totally blank on the idea mid-sentence! My mind is quite visual, so I can almost doodle on… Read more »

Christine Graves
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I’ve done free writing for years to come up with ideas. I won’t say I always adhere to the rules, but it’s the best way for me to get past that stuck feeling.