Improve Your Writing With This Daily Exercise
Writing in short, fast spurts can kick-start your authentic narrative voice and bring out your natural storytelling abilities. Experienced writers swear by the power of doing regular free-writes. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do a free-writing exercise to loosen up stiff writing 'muscles' and boost your creative output. Doing a daily freewriting session can greatly improve your writing skills.
Step 1: Find a timer and an uncluttered space.
Your smartphone, the alarm on your watch or an egg timer will do. Pick a timing device that will beep or buzz when your time is up so that you can focus on writing instead of watching the clock. Find a clear, uncluttered place where you'll be able to write without being distracted by visitors, the phone or your email alerts.
If you're going to do this writing exercise on your computer, I recommend that you shut down all your tabs and internet browsers. The only program you should be able to see is your word processing program. That way you won't be tempted to peek at your Inbox or Facebook account when a notification pops up.
Tip: Whatever writing implement you choose—pen or pencil—make sure that it moves smoothly and seamlessly as you write. Your thoughts will glide onto the page and you will enjoy the process of freewriting much more.
Freewriting exercises are push-ups in withholding judgement as you produce so that afterwards you can judge better.— Peter Elbow, Writing with Power
Step 2: Set your timer to 15 minutes and start writing.
You can write by hand or type on the computer—whatever method is fastest for you. The most important thing is to keep your hands moving across the keyboard or over the smooth steno pad on your desk. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling. Don’t stop to edit your work. If you get stuck looking for a word, just pick one and move on. It may not be the ideal word or phrase, but for the purposes of this writing exercise, that doesn't matter. You aren't meant to be judging your work at this point. Write as quickly as your hands and thoughts can keep up with each other.
It doesn’t matter what you write about. No one is ever going to see this piece of writing except you. You can write about what you did yesterday, what you're worried about today, or what you hope to accomplish in the next year of your writing career. You can write about someone or something that made you angry, frustrated or sad. You can write about the dream you had last night and what you think it all means. You can even write out your shopping list if that’s what’s on your mind. Just go with it. The idea here is that every thought, no matter how random it may seem, could be the start of a wonderful story.
The truth is that the only way that you'll be able to find useful and relevant stories and anecdotes to share with others is if you draw on your own inner resources and life experience first. Your life is a gold mine of rich stories to tell. By doing a timed writing exercise like this you're forcing yourself to bypass your Inner Critic and just let the stories pour forth.
When you force yourself to keep writing, you don't give the Inner Critic a chance to sort through and edit your stories: "This is no good. That's a dumb idea. What kind of silly story is that." Self-editing while you're in the middle of brainstorming doesn't work. You end up tossing out ideas before they have a chance to take off.
Step 3: Stop writing.
When your 15 minutes are up, re-read what you've written. Some of it may not be useful for you right now. Some of it may even be garbage. That's OK. On the other hand, you might end up with an anecdote or idea for your next speech.
You might jog your memory about an event from your distant past that could become an inspiring addition to the next chapter of your memoir. Timed writing exercises are more about process rather than product. The point it to get your writing voice fired up and ready to express itself freely. Timed writing exercises teach you how to get out of the way.
Freewriting is an opportunity to observe yourself and your writing process without trying to edit, change or correct your course during the creative process. You might be surprised at how quickly your writing improves when you are able to separate the drafting and editing phases while you write.
- Elbow, Peter. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. New York: Oxford UP, 1981. Print.
© 2016 Sadie Holloway