Charlotte Rains Dixon  

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!

0 thoughts on “All You Have to Do is Write

  1. Amanda Moon

    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 after 15 minutes, I kept going for another hour.

    Now I need to come to terms with the fact this is going to be a full rewrite instead of a polishing. Blerg.

    1. Charlotte Rains Dixon

      So I guess you decided on switching to first person, then? LOL. Sometimes that happens. The story just insists on being told in a certain way and it is our job to honor that. I’m glad the free writing helped get you back on track!

      1. Amanda Moon

        I think so! I wish it would have decided to change POVs 2 or 3 drafts ago, though!

        1. Charlotte Rains Dixon

          Ha, I hear you! Sometimes I wish my muse would work a little faster but she doesn’t like to be rushed.

  2. Derek Ayre

    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 an idea and find it a great help to not lose stuff!

    I think that this is a great idea to stick to 15 minutes, as I tend to keep going for much longer at times, and sometime if its too long, the thought comes to me that what I am writing is rubbish and it gets consigned to the trash. So, I have made a little commitment that I will write out a post on my blog leaving it in draft mode and wait until the next day to edit and publish. I often feels then as if somebody else has written it, and I sort of lose that self-critic.

    1. Charlotte Rains Dixon

      Well, and here’s the thing–if you get to the end of your 15 minutes and still feel you have more to write, you can go for another sprint! Love that idea about waiting until the next day to actually publish your post. Gives you some perspective.

  3. Christine Graves

    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.

    1. Charlotte Rains Dixon

      I would say I’ve done it for years also–except I haven’t, really, because I sometimes conveniently forget that part about keeping your hand moving across the page–which is key for me. And yeah, it works wonders for getting over being stuck!

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