Freewriting: the cure for writer’s block

academics freewriting writer's block writing

Writing an essay or term paper can often feel like an uphill battle. We have all been victims, time to time, of the dreaded “writer’s block.” It can be frustrating and overwhelming when you sit down to write but you just don’t know where to start. But fear not! In this blog post, I will describe a helpful technique for overcoming writer’s block: freewriting. 

What is freewriting?

Freewriting – sometimes called automatic writing – is a technique that involves writing continuously for a given amount of time, without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or structure. The goal is to write freely and uncensored, without stopping to edit or revise. The only rule of freewriting is to just keep writing! The idea is to let your thoughts flow onto the page without overthinking them.

How does freewriting help with writer's block?

In my experiences with academic writing––as a tutor, teacher, and scholar myself––I have found that freewriting is the best strategy for overcoming writer’s block. It can help you generate new ideas, break through mental barriers, and unlock your creativity. When you're stuck, freewriting can provide a jumpstart to your writing process.

How to Freewrite

Set a timer.

For newcomers to the technique of freewriting, I find that five-to-seven minute sessions are a comfortable place to start. You’ll quickly find, however, that the time flies when you’re freewriting. Soon, you can work your way up to ten-fifteen minute freewrites. More experienced writers may eventually freewrite for twenty to thirty minutes. The goal is to write continuously for the entire duration of the timer, without stopping to edit or revise.

Write with abandon.

Write whatever comes to mind, without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or structure. Let your thoughts flow onto the page without overthinking them. Do not stop to edit or revise. If you are writing with a pencil, do not erase. Do not cross out. Use your stream of consciousness to generate material. Keep writing until the timer goes off. 

Review your writing.

Once the timer goes off, review what you've written. You may find that some of the ideas you generated during freewriting can be used in your writing project.

Tips for successful freewriting:

1. Find a quiet space

Freewriting requires concentration and focus. Find a quiet, ideally uncluttered, space where you won't be disturbed. Libraries are great for freewriting sessions!

2. Write by hand

I find writing by hand to be essential to a successful freewrite. The ease of the backspace button is too tempting. Besides, other tabs and notifications can be distracting while trying to write. The physical, embodied act of writing by hand can also spur deeper engagement with your creativity and thoughts. Most of us type faster than we write by hand – writing by hand slows us down ever-so-slightly, allowing us to be more intentional in a freewriting session, yet still fast-paced. Many students tell me that this type of deep engagement causes revelations in their thought process! 

3. Keep your pen moving

It's important to keep your pen moving during the freewriting process, even if you don't know what to write. If you get stuck, just write "I don't know what to write" repeatedly until another idea comes to mind.

4. Don't judge your writing

Remember, the goal of freewriting is to generate ideas, not to produce polished writing. Don't judge your writing during the freewriting process. You can always revise and edit later. This is just step one! 

Overall, freewriting can help you let go of your inner critic and unleash your creativity.

When you write without worrying about structure or grammar, you free your mind and generate new ideas. By removing the pressure to immediately produce a polished piece of writing, freewriting serves as a great starting point for generating and clarifying ideas in the early stages of the writing process. I encourage you to try out freewriting the next time you get stuck on a writing assignment to see for yourself how it helps the ideas flow!

Jack earned his BA in Theatre and Performance Studies (cum laude) at Yale University, where he also pursued extensive coursework in humanities departments like English and History. After Yale, Jack earned his MA in Theatre at The Ohio State University with a focus on dramatic literature, history, and theory.

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