Do You Free Write?

Are you a journal keeper? A note taker? A free writer? I jot down a few writing ideas here and there, but I don’t keep a journal. The thought of journal keeping makes my pulse race from the stress.

But I think free writing is a neglected step in writing.

Today I stumbled on a timed “free write” from 1996. It amazed me how the seeds for my Freshly Pressed post “How and Why I Don’t Know Science”  were all there 17 years ago.

Here’s part of the free write, unrevised:

I begin with thinking of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, “That Marvelous Toy,” and until I write about this I’ll remember nothing else.  That mechanical, marvelous toy.  My grandfather’s love of gadget toys.  When I was a child, we used to give him toys for Christmas.

Then I think of having to take earth science in 10th grade because I refused to dissect animals.  Earth science was so boring, taught by a beige boring person, and I was stuck at a table with kids who sat in the back of other classes.  Therefore, I learned nothing.  I yearned for chemistry and physics.

I loved 7th grade science where we saw anti-drug propaganda films and brought in chocolate colored ants.  We kept track of what we ate, to add up calories.  I ate 2nd most in the class by far.  Metabolism? In college I loved Aims and Achievements of Science which was taught like a biography class!

None of these memories 3:09/3:12 (phone/bathroom) though is the tangible revelation of science, is it?  Punished in 3rd grade, desk in hall to record roman numerals as high as I could, when the punishment was over, I kept going to see how far I could go.  But this was easy, a challenge, no revelation.

The dead squirrel in the front year–the squirrel whose mouth crawled with maggots?  Cutting the fish open?  They bleed?  Studying clouds in 5/6th grades?  Buying those science books at the grocery store and studying aspects of science, doing experiments, the Mich. State channel on Sat. afternoon–potato experiments, etc.  Seeing magic performed with science.  Seeing the birth of a baby on a movie at the world’s fair at Expo 67 (I was 12 and terrified, so very much bleeding, bleeding).

I blank.  Science?  What?  Making crystals on a string.  My shell collection.  Rock collection.  Dead leaves.  Pine cones.  Tadpoles in the stream behind Stonehenge.  Putting caterpillar in a jar and letting him cocoon all winter.  Forgetting to take him out when he turns into a butterfly–he dies in the jar.

My guinea pig babies dying–every single litter of them, until I couldn’t stand to go near the guinea pigs.  Leaving the birds too long without food or fresh water.

photo from Wikipedia

Reading over this collection of run-on memories, I can see a lot of different story seeds. A few I have already written about. The first litter of guinea pigs is a scene in my book. I’ve touched on the butterfly, but that is just another step until I write the actual piece about it.

I’m taking two projects away from finding this old free writing.

One is that I can write about my grandfather’s love of mechanical toys. On my genealogy blog I have been serializing an interview of my grandfather which was conducted in 1994—when he was elderly, but still healthy. I could post a story about Grandpa’s toys on that website. Or I could write it for this one.

The other project is that I ought to be doing a lot more of these timed free writes. They allow little memories to pop up, one after another, as I am pressured by the time deadline and freed from the pressure of having to write well ;).

Do you do free writing? If so, is it timed? What do you find helpful about it?

39 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Interview, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

39 responses to “Do You Free Write?

  1. I’ve never tried free writing, Luanne, but after reading your post, I might have to give it a try. I can certainly see how it can get the ideas flowing. I’ve always kept a journal or I should say journals. I’ve got unused journals stock all over my house. 🙂

    • Luanne

      Jill, let me know how it goes for you if you try it. I like the idea of timing it–give yourself about ten minutes–because the pressure forces you not to think about what you’re writing. Being more “mindless” about it is helpful.

  2. Free writing is an exercise where you put pen to paper an write from the sub conscious. I did it about 2 years.i was amazed by what came out as I wrote. You are not planning what you write. The truth just pours out of it. Give it a try.

    • Luanne

      For me that’s why doing it as a timed exercise really helps. That way you are forced to not think about it–to just let the words flow out onto the paper.

  3. I’m a free writer Luanne, it’s the sane thing for me to do. It’s not timed and I think I like it a lot, but ideas flows that way without any hindrance. Great post, I must say! 🙂

    • Luanne

      Seyi sandra, thank you so much! I’m so glad you use free writing and find it effective. I think I’m a big fan and am going to start doing it a lot more! xo

  4. This kind of writing is so useful. You put it yourself – there is always a seed, often more, that turns up when we just let ourselves go and write without restriction. Then we go on and develop the idea!

    • Luanne

      It’s hard to imagine having a hard time coming up with ideas to write about when you do free writing! Thanks, Gabriela!

  5. I facilitate a weekly writing group of men and women with a personal experience of homelessness. We have done free writing exercises in the past. I’ll never forget when one of the founding members called it a real trip, kind of scary, uncertain what I was asking them to do. Then how he much he liked it.

    • Luanne

      Ellen, what a marvelous addition to the subject! How interesting that he found it so scary at first and then grew to like it. That says a lot, I think.

  6. I free write often, maybe exclusively. I sort of love the raw listy quality of it, as your own notes so aptly demonstrate. There’s a force to the sheer outpouring of those observations that takes on its own structure. Rather than seeing story seeds, I see the whole enchilada right there as you’ve recorded it. –of course, that’s also because I tend to write surreal prose poetry these days more than novel chapters. Anyways, a great post.

    • Luanne

      Ooh, I love that: “the raw listy quality of it.” So true! Thanks so much for your thoughts, Michael. That will give me something to think about for some time–the idea that it’s the whole enchilada!

  7. I used it with my students, and I too would write when they did to model writing techniques…they liked it. It helped them get ideas to flow.

    • Luanne

      So wonderful to hear that it was successful for your students. I think it’s remarkable that it isn’t used more often. What a loss, really.

  8. I like to keep a journal where I write down the highlights (and lowlights) of the day. Years later my journals have come in handy in my novel writing or in my blog posts. I can see how your free writing would be a very handy resource for writing a novel. Lots of ideas you could weave into a story.

  9. I don’t free write, but I do use the 3AM Exercise book for prompts and periodically go through Julia Cameron’s books for topics to write about in my journal (morning pages). Some of these pieces have turned into short stories, essays, or blog posts.
    I have friends who swear by timed free writing.
    Thanks for this post.
    Theresa

  10. Do I free write
    or don’t I
    wherefore and why?

    While I can’t understand the vicissitudes of it all
    it is completely confounding
    and complex.

    Why
    when hither I wander
    far from the pencil and paper
    of my youth
    do I seek to write freely
    and “free write” as it’s said?

    Why pause for logic
    when logic is free flow and without pause?

    Because it’s free :>)!

    • Luanne

      Haha, very clever! Thanks for stopping by!

      • I’ll more than “just stop by…”; be glad to join in and be a part of your site!

        • Luanne

          Wonderful!! Welcome!!!

          • Hi Luane: how do I find “help” here on Word Press? I created one free page, but have to change a name on it for legal reasons.

            • Luanne

              I can’t find it any more. Last year I could write to WordPress and get a reply to help troubleshoot, but they don’t seem to have that any more. Just one of my many complaints with them recently. I think I’m going to write a blog post about WP . . .

              • Do you “free write”?
                Do you “free wrong”?
                Do you worry about your tomorrow’s today
                when you don’t even know what will happen next?

                Maybe next time;
                maybe next year?
                Maybe the days will
                end up in tears?

                Or will they end up in joy?

                Will they end up affirming
                whatever you thought
                of love reassuring?
                Love replete?
                Or will you never find love
                wishing upon a star?

                m
                R

              • Hi Luanne: ltnc… I just tried to log-in to WordPress, and it rejected ever screen name and e-mail address that I entered :>/. Have you had any luck here recently? BTW…my E-mail address is: cfpwd3@gmail.com fyi, in case you want or nee to reach me. Thanks so much! Mitch

          • “She’s a Lady
            in a magical
            Mister-erious world
            Without a sense of strife
            Without a loss of life
            Ennobled by divisions
            Self-conscious by derisions
            Thoroughly understanding the weather…
            whether or not we’ll be together
            She’s a Singer
            – he’s a song
            She’s a Dancer
            – he’s a stage
            She’s an actress, she’s a fighter
            – he’s a Writer* :>)
            m
            R

      • Do you “free write”?
        Do you “free wrong”?
        Do you worry about your tomorrow’s today
        when you don’t even know what will happen next?

        Maybe next time;
        maybe next year?
        Maybe the days will
        end up in tears?

        Or will they end up in joy?

        Will they end up affirming
        whatever you thought
        of love reassuring?
        Love replete?
        Or will you never find love
        wishing upon a star?

        m
        R

  11. I’m curious: why does the thought of journal keeping makes your pulse “race from the stress”?

    • Luanne

      That is a really good question! I don’t know. It reminds me of chores I don’t want to do! Things I “have” to do. Does that make sense?

      • Somewhat. For me personally, journaling was like breathing for awhile, so it wasn’t a chore, just a needed outlet. But had I had other means of expressing myself, I’d probably see it differently. Today as I’m going more public with the writing, I definitely have slacked in the journaling. Maybe it’s something that is more useful at certain times of life than others.

        • Luanne

          You might be right about that. I did journal during a certain period of my life, and I keep hoping it shows up when I go through a drawer or something so I can read it!

  12. Pingback: Dear Diary | Jill Weatherholt

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