The blank page taunts and tortures, whether you are starting a paper for a class or about to bring us the world’s next great novel. Knowing your purpose—or your deadline—won’t matter when the words are struggling to come out of your depths into a coherent, impactful work.
I recommend freewriting to get the party started.
When I was first taught about freewriting back in broadcasting school, it didn’t work for me. Being forced to write something has never been a great source of motivation for me—not with my precious writer’s identity (see: Aries Moon). As a matter of fact, only by looking it up for this post did I realize that freewriting was an official thing rather than simply a common sense technique discovered continually by millions of frustrated writers throughout history.
Credited technique or folk wisdom, freewriting works. Deadlines and passion will push you around, so you must free yourself to show them who’s boss.
Empty your brain.
Just write down whatever it is you are thinking to “get the top layer off,” as I call it. Take the opportunity to put out the bad and the ugly to make way for the good. You may already keep a journal, but freewriting uses that same intention for a different result. If you do not journal regularly, freewriting can be a journaling technique.
Free yourself from structure.
Each finalized written thing has its own structure: the screenplay, the blog post, the research paper, the poem, etc. However, when you freewrite, none of these forms matter. You can even start off by writing your thoughts on what you have to write and how you are limited by its structure. Write about why you think have anxiety about this task. Most importantly, don’t get hung up on being correct! Write the wrong terms for stuff, do some comma damage, jack up sentences. Make your own beautiful, ugly mess.
Identify what you know so far.
Surely you know something about the topic you want to address in your project. Write it out in your own plain language to yourself. Doing this can give you confidence, as you may discover that you know more about the topic than you thought you did. Further, it may lead to the start of an outline. Although you shouldn’t go into it thinking of an outline as an outcome, you are opening the door to information that can be arranged later.
No eyes over your shoulders.
I probably didn’t dig freewriting as a student in a classroom because, other than someone telling me what to do, I didn’t feel sufficiently alone. Was the professor going to collect it? Were other students looking at my paper? Your freewrites are for you only. Eventually, others will see your completed work, but until that time, swim in the warm waters of drafts. And just so we’re clear: your real first draft is different than the first draft you show people, which should be something you have edited several times before it sees the light of an audience.
Free yourself from instant results.
The whole point of freewriting is the FREE part. It defeats the purpose to go into it with the expectation that it will instantly turn into that thing you need to write. Give the ideas permission to float until they connect and move into the proper form for your project. Will it take hours or days? Fck around and find out. Each process from freewriting to structured piece should be different.
Keep your freewrites.
Make a folder on your typing device or keep a notebook to store these. Appreciate the wonder of having writings about various topics and moods that are for your eyes only. You’re a writer; treat yourself with a treasure trove of your wild ideas. You never know when one or several may come in handy. I wish you money, peace, security, fun, Love, and The Real You!
Tahira Chloe Mahdi is an author, screenwriter, independent arts & culture journalist, and community psychologist. Her latest novel This Is Not How It Was Supposed to Go is a wild, explosive adventure into the dynamics of adult children living with their parents, young women’s sexual agency, and close-knit suburban hood communities.