Free writing is an exercise in creating a stream of consciousness on paper. The technique entails sitting down to write about whatever comes to mind as soon as it comes to mind, and not stopping until your time or word count is up.
If a song comes to mind, you write that down. If that jerk who cut you off on the highway comes to mind, you let him have it.
Writers use this as a strategy to get passed writer’s block. By training yourself to remove any barriers between your mind and the keyboard, you’ll find yourself staring at a blank page far less often.
But in my experience free writing, I’ve found 3 other surprising benefits that make it really worth trying:
1. Regulate Your Emotions & Gain Perspective
Don’t underestimate the emotional toll that your daily workflow has on you. All day long we’re responding to external stimuli in the form emails, requests, phone calls, meetings, social media, etc. And every stimulus gets an emotional response.
Journaling is a good way to reflect on the day’s events. But the day doesn’t really end after you write in your journal. As soon as you go to sleep, your subconscious goes back to work making sense of all the things that happened. And when you wake up, your perspective on things may have changed entirely.
That’s why free writing the next morning is really the best time to clear the decks, resolve any issues, and create space for another day.
2. Discover Ideas You Didn’t Know You had
The best way to solve a particularly challenging problem is to work really hard on it for a while, then go do something else. The act of focussing deeply on a problem and then letting go of it completely puts our subconscious to work.
Eventually, an idea will dawn upon you that you never would’ve come up with had you been actively thinking about the problem.
Free writing is a great way to pull out those ideas. It’s like scanning your brain for the seeds of ideas that are yet to sprout and forcing them to come together on paper in front of you.
Your subconscious is always incubating ideas. It’s always making connections. It’s always observing. But only a few of those connections and observations make it to consciousness.
Which begs the question, how much are we potentially missing out on? How can we bring more of those connections to light?
99% of what you write will likely be non-sense. But 1% of it will actually be useful. That 1% is what was kicking around your subconscious that you otherwise wouldn’t have found.
3. Bring Clarity & Focus to Your Work
It’s happened more times than I can count. I sit down to do my free writing with no idea what to write about. I think to myself, well this is going to be a short one. How am I going to make it to 1,000 words (which is my daily target)?
Before you know it, I’ve broken 1,000 and headed towards 1,500.
You’d be very surprised how much is going on inside that brain of yours. Your subconscious is working full tilt all the time, and that’s in addition to your conscious brain. Give it a chance to get going and you might wish you hadn’t.
But there’s a huge benefit to dumping everything in your mind on paper.
By removing all the clutter your mind tends to gather day after day, you experience a sense of clarity. Which is why the best time to freewrite is first thing in the morning right before your most creative task.
The More, The Better
In my experience, the more you put down on paper, the more you’ll experience the benefits.
Some people like to time their free writing sessions. Some set word counts. Some do neither. Either way, the point of this is to aim for volume.
Write as much as possible, don’t miss a single thought that comes to mind, and create an honest stream of consciousness on paper. You never know what you might come up with.