Free Writing: a tool for seeds, beginnings revisions

When we first sit down to write there is nothing to lean on. A blank page and a fuzzy idea about what you want to say. What to say? Insecurity, inertia, self-doubt, fear … Is it important enough? Should you be doing something ‘productive’ instead? But what about your good intention?!  You begin to write. Perhaps you write rubbish. The point is simply to put words on the page. This immediate, no holds barred form of free writing harnesses the unconscious which jumpstarts the imagination which allows the fingers to fly, the words to emerge…. read on for why free writing works so well.

November, gristly, grim  and dripping with rain,  is a perfect time to write. You are not missing a thing outside. National November Write a Novel in a Month  NANORIMO was conceived  for this month. And if  your spirit is willing, it works. You write 1,667words each day for the 30 days of November. That gives you 50,000 words. The perfect length for a novel. 

How do you do it?  You start by Free Writing. This provides the brainstorming that catalyses your story start. When the novelty wears off, you continue.. by Free Writing. This unsticks you, opens space and possibility. How to tie things up? Free Writing, to think around endings. 

In Writing Down the BonesNatalie Goldberg extols the merits of journaling as a way of recording sensory experiences and the thoughts they evoke. Through journaling these experiences sift through your consciousness, through your body. You collect them, like a giant compost heap.  As you write of them, you turn them over, these organic details of your life; turn them over again and again. After a time, they decompose into fertile soil. A pure distillate of thought emerges. You put your finger on what you want to say. There blooms worthy  prose – in story, poem or chapter. 

You capture a fresh response to what you see, hear, feel taste and touch when you write without stopping. In the freshness lies the detail that pulls the reader in. Your specific description of a person, place or thing  may define something that the reader has not witnessed; yet it finds a way to engage him. I think this is because we have a collective unconscious that connects us to one another, to our ancestors and our descendants. Echoes, patterns, passages – like long forgotten tunes.

Have a go at Free Writing whenever you need a seed for a new start, a beginning for a new work or rekindling when in a stuck place.

F-R-E-E-WritingF-R-E-E stands for Fast, Raw and Exact-but-Easy*


Write as fast as you can while remaining legible. Keep your hand moving: once you begin writing, don’t stop until you have completed the time or page space you have allocated to the exercise. Don’t pause to reread what you’ve just written, because that leads to stalling and attempting to control or refine your first thoughts.

At first your wrist or hand may be sore but don’t worry about that – just keep going. Your muscles will adjust in a few days. Write fast and furious until you have completed the allocated time or pages.

Let the words flow f-r-e-e. Lose control.


Writing raw has two meanings. On one hand, because you are writing as fast as you can with the aim of unleashing your unconscious mind, you can forget  about spelling, punctuation etc. This is for you; you will know what you mean: so forget everything your English teachers ever told you and write as raw as you like. Pay no attention to style or expression; just write the thoughts that arise in your own, everyday language.

The second meaning of writing raw is to resist any urge to self-censor. Don’t cross out or correct or try to edit anything, either as you write or once it is written. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it stand.

Sometimes thoughts arise that feel frightening or silly or disgusting or pathetic. Thoughts you don’t want anybody else to know you ever had. Let them come, raw as they are. Get them out  The words you least feel like writing are often those that are most significant. Don’t think, just write.

Let the words flow f-r-e-e. Lose control.


What we mean by “exact” is that you should be precise about detail as you write. Not “some fruit” but “a bunch of green grapes”. Not “a man” but “a 35-year-old bricklayer”; not “She sat at her desk, looking sad,” but “She leaned over her desk, the book she had stopped reading discarded, her arms crossed, her head low.” Take the time and the extra few words it takes to be specific.

This is also a matter of using the original detail of your own life. Nothing links us to our own lives better than writing down the real and precise details of how things actually are for us: the sights and smells, the tastes and feelings. Everyone’s life is at once both ordinary and extraordinary, trivial and important. The trivial detail is always worthy of record: through it, somehow, we sense our own significance.

The challenge is to keep the writing exact-but-easy, specific and precise without stopping to chew our pen over details or slowing down. This sounds contradictory but in fact is much easier in practice than it sounds. Once you give yourself the instruction in advance of your writing session, you find it happens automatically. 

And if you do find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between speed or detail, choose speed: writing fast is the first requirement of F-R-E-E Writing. Take a moment, before you begin a session each time, to instruct yourself to write concrete and specific details. We all have the habit of thinking and writing in abstractions, but lived detail is what we’re after in our F-R-E-E Writing.

Let the words flow f-r-e-e. Lose control.

Get Started

Sit at a table or desk with your pen and F-R-E-E-Writing Notebook. Sit in stillness and quiet, for two full minutes, letting your breathing become progressively slower and deeper. Let your thoughts rest, waiting to begin this new activity.

At the end of the two minutes, take up your pen and begin to write. Whatever form the words take, let them arrive without your direction. Do not reject or censor anything. Neither is there any need to affirm anything you write. Just let it come, without judgment. Do not welcome any thought or image because it is optimistic, or encouraging or “positive” in any way. Similarly, no thought or image should be rejected because it is too “negative” or because it points toward difficulties that may lie ahead. Accept what comes.

F-R-E-E-Writing enables you to meet yourself on the page, connecting you to all three levels of your self: Front Self, Deep Self, Beyond Self.

F-R-E-E-Writing rights. It improves your psychic state, elevates your mood, makes you feel centred, sets you up for your day.

F-R-E-E-Writing sets the movements of your life into perspective and often uncovers hidden meanings and significances

F-R-E-E-Writing honours your life, gives it value.

F-R-E-E-Writing teaches you to trust your own intuition and your own experience of the world.

F-R-E-E-Writing processes your past and can help to heal trauma, pain or unhappiness arising from the past

F-R-E-E-Writing separates you from your thoughts and emotions, so you can observe them. By becoming “the watcher” in this way, your feelings and ideas lose some of their power over you.

F-R-E-E-Writing increases your awareness of all your relationships, with people, places and things

F-R-E-E-Writing gives you the courage to make change: truly allowing all the voices inside you diminishes the power of the critics outside.

F-R-E-E-Writing fosters a sense of gratitude and appreciation. It keeps you on the track of what you truly want and keeps you alert to opportunities as they arise in your life, including opportunities for increasing your prosperity, sharing your gifts and making a contribution. It is a creative act that roots you in the moment and shows you when you are going off balance. 

My thoughts plus excerpts from