This week, I was lucky enough to have Julie Cameron write a guest blog post for me. In it, she talks about how useful free writing can be for writers.
Free-writing is a great way of clearing the mind – if you’re stuck, or if you just want to work out the clutter. It can help you step away from your current writing project, and just let your mind wander. If you find you keep sitting down to write that next scene, but can’t seem to get started, you may just need to clear the extra chatter in your head.
For those of you who have not heard of this exercise, it’s fairly simple. You are prompted by a word or a phrase, and you write anything and everything that passes through your mind. The point is that you just keep writing, even if you think it’s gibberish, and even if it’s riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
For example, say the phrase is: “A funny thing happened on my way to the forum…” You can interpret that phrase any way you like and go from there.
You might write:
A funny thing happened on my way to the forum… I never got there, because I changed my mind and decided to go out for ice cream instead.
Or, suppose you decide you don’t even like the phrase, and don’t want anything to do with it:
A funny thing happened on my way to the forum… A priest, a rabbi, and a goat walk into a bar.
Either is acceptable, because there is no wrong answer! The only thing you are responsible for, is writing down whatever comes to your mind. That’s the beauty of this exercise. And it may be surprising what comes out in the end. You may not have realized that you still hold secret resentment toward your great Aunt Fanny for leaving her millions to a duck sanctuary instead of to you. Or you may discover that you are a brilliant poet, and have a knack for traditional Japanese haiku. Or it may just be as simple as getting “stuff” out of your mind so that you can move on to your Great American Novel.
This isn’t a new concept, people have been doing it for ages. Julia Cameron (please note the “a” instead of the “e” at the end of her first name, which shows that no, she is not me, although I have started getting emails for her…) uses the exercise of writing Morning Pages in her book, The Artist’s Way as a tool to help keep the writer’s creativity flowing, which is basically free-writing without the use of a phrase to get you started.
Here are a few tips to help you get going:
1). Keep a list of phrases: Open a book, poem, email, post, etc. at random and point to a sentence. Use that, or part of it, as your phrase to get you going. Make a list and add to it whenever anyone says something that you like (or don’t like).
2). Set a time limit: Give yourself a set amount of time for each phrase. Don’t just keep writing if the time is up, and don’t just quit if the time hasn’t finished (I have been known to write about how much my hand hurts from writing long-hand when I run out of things to write about the phrase).
3). Use a pen and paper: Many of us (by “us,” I really mean, “me”) would rather use the computer to do free-writing, but it is actually more beneficial to do it long-hand. (There are many spiritual and scientific reasons having to do with the heart and the hand and the head, but to be honest, I kind of stopped listening at that part. You can go out and search yourself if you feel it’s important, but I just went on faith that the instructor knew what she was talking about.)
4). Don’t correct yourself: This is very important. Do not make any changes as you go through your writing. Don’t worry about how you are writing – grammar, spelling, punctuation – none of it matters. Just go with the flow, and get it down on paper.
Free-writing can be done on your own, in the comfort and privacy of your own space. But consider expanding yourself and doing it with a group or in a class. It takes some courage to read aloud what you wrote, but it will also give you great feedback on what you’ve written, and what’s behind it all.
Sometimes, what we write, isn’t what we think. And sometimes what we thought, isn’t what we wrote.
Think about it.
Julie Cameron is an author and screenwriter of humorous women’s fiction, living in Denver, Colorado. Her first book Christmas Spirit, which is also a screenplay by the same name, is the first of the Landon Literary series, and was published in November, 2015. Julie was thrilled to recently discover that ‘Christmas Spirit’ is currently a finalist in two categories with the Colorado Romance Writers 2016 Excellence Awards contest. She enjoys connecting with her readers, and invites you to visit her website: http://www.juliecameron.net and to follow her on Facebook: Julie-Cameron-Writer