Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

I read advice and exercises for writers that use the term "freewrite." What does this mean?

Freewriting is a pre-writing activity, where you set a certain amount of time (usually 10-20 minutes) and write for that entire period of time. Keep your hand moving across the page (or your fingers moving on the keyboard). If you get stuck, write about feeling stuck. If you can’t summon up another word, then simply write the last word you wrote over and over until you come up with something else. Do not edit as you go. Do not concern yourself with proper grammar. Do not evaluate as you write.

The idea is to keep yourself ahead of your internal editor, who can sometimes snip an idea before it has a chance to flower. Also, writing without the constraints of organization and control allows the writer to make connections, discover associations, develop and work through ideas. By allowing yourself to wander, you create the opportunity to take risks and this can lead to lively ideas and bursts of creativity. Encourage yourself to write swiftly. Not only will this help you keep ahead of the internal editor, it will also help you keep ahead of your thoughts. You’ll write on a more intuitive level and perhaps make more discoveries.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives her own rules for freewriting. Number six is this: “Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)” Freewriting can be a safe space in which you can explore topics that you might otherwise shy away from when thinking in the more rigid terms of the topic of your next story.

The more you freewrite, the more natural it will feel. You’ll also gain a better understanding of its intrinsic value once you accumulate the experiences that show this kind of pre-writing leads to something. That something can be anything: an idea for your next project, an increased confidence in an element of craft, an experimentation, or a deeper exploration of a concern. You won’t know until you start. So, why don’t you do that now? Set the timer for ten minutes and write. Need a prompt? Start with these words: “I never realized . . .”