Stuck in a writing rut? Try freewriting.

Photo by Marcin Skalij on Unsplash

‘Writing is an exercise in sculpture, chipping away at the rock until you find the nose.’

Stanley Elkin (American novelist)

If you go to university you are going to have to write — there are no two ways about it! As previously discussed, writing is a skill and must be practiced. But even the most accomplished writers get stuck in a rut, struggle to get words on the page and get bogged down seeking perfection. One approach for getting past these barriers and moving forward is freewriting. This approach allows you to get words on the page, clarify your ideas and not get caught up trying to perfect a sentence or paragraph before moving on.

Freewriting involves writing non-stop for a set time (usually no more than 20 minutes). During this time, the writer does not pay attention to spelling, grammar, referencing and other aspects that may slow writing down. A specific prompt, idea, topic or section (such as an introduction or conclusion) may be the focus for a free writing session. The amount of preparation needed for a free writing session will vary. In some areas — creative writing for example — the prompt may require you to use your own experience or imagination and therefore need little preparation. However, in other areas — such as sport and exercise science — you may need to spend some time reading and researching to have some ideas to inform your freewriting. Once you have completed any required preparation, you are ready to begin your freewriting session.

During your freewriting session, you should aim to keep writing for all of the allotted time. If your writing begins to stall or you run out of ideas, it is often recommended that you should keep writing things like ‘I am stalling’, ‘I’ve run out of ideas’ or just random words until something comes to you and you can get back on track.

When you have completed your freewriting session, you should read and re-read the words you have written — not to correct spelling and grammar or insert references — but to find the ideas that may be useful to develop and include in your work. Once you have found these ideas, you can clarify and expand upon them (undertaking further reading and research if needed) before integrating them into your work.

If you think that freewriting is an approach that may help you, here are some guidelines for your first freewriting session:

  1. Identify the focus for your freewriting session — what is the prompt, topic, idea or section?
  2. Make sure you have done enough preparation — do you need to do any more reading or research before your freewriting session?
  3. Decide how long your freewriting session will be — it is up to you, but sessions are usually no longer than 20 minutes.
  4. Decide if you are going to use a computer or pen/pencil and paper for your freewriting session — pen/pencil and paper may be better for flow and turning off the monitor if you are using a computer will make sure you are not distracted by spelling and grammar checkers highlighting errors.
  5. Write continuously for the duration of your freewriting session — do not worry about spelling, grammar, referencing and other things that may slow you down; if you are stalling, write anything to keep going — something will come to you!
  6. Once you have finished your freewriting session, read and re-read what you have written and identify the bits that may be useful to include in your work and if you need to do any further reading and research.
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