Freewriting is an essential part of my brainstorming, but it’s also become my fall back anytime my story isn’t working. I type my drafts and freewriting on paper. I think there’s something organic about this. It takes the screen away and puts me just a little closer to my work. Typically, I’ve found approaching my work differently can make me think about it differently, which can help stimulate creativity.
Beyond that, freewriting has become a good way to keep moving forward when I’m struggling. It lets me work on my story, without the expectations or challenge of making everything “fit.”
Here are some ways I use freewriting and how you might want to use it too:
To take a time out from drafting if my book feels like it’s headed in the wrong direction
I’m a big outliner. But no matter how much I plan and outline, I don’t really know what will work in my story until I write it. Sometimes, I find that I’m deep in my story and the direction I was taking my book in just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it doesn’t jive with a new story element I discovered while writing, or maybe the story that sounded good in theory doesn’t work so well in practice. Or maybe there are aspects that are just flat out boring. In those situations, I mentally back up to where the book last made sense and freewrite 5-10 different directions the story could go in–including the direction I was headed.
This helps me explore all of my options without committing to it in the draft.
To freewrite with a focus
Anytime a storyline or any aspect of my book is giving me a hard time or just seems to be lacking, I freewrite with a focus on that area. I make sure these thoughts are unstructured and stream-of-conscience. These types of freewrites help me to explore details and corners of an idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. There’s something about writing these thoughts down that forces solutions to the surface in a way that “just thinking about them” doesn’t.
In most cases, these freewrites often turn into a rough outline or guide for the problematic storyline.
To consider revision options and plans
When it comes time to prep for revision, I use freewriting to consider my options. If I find a problem in my story, I’ll brainstorm a handful of possible solutions. Then I’ll write about how my book would look if I take each of my possible solutions. This helps me to have a strong and developed idea of how each of the solutions will impact my story, along with insights into any new problems those solutions may create. I’ll do this for every problem, storyline, and character arc change to select the best possible option for my book.
To flesh out a character
There’s a lot about a character that your reader may never know. However, as the author, it’s important for me to have a strong understanding of who my characters are, what their life has been like, and what’s help shaped them. Freewriting about my characters and their history has been far more beneficial for me than any character questionnaire has ever been. (Though they definitely have their place too!) It allows me to follow my characters history naturally and really dig into important aspects of their lives in an organic way. This is also really helpful in exploring key character relationships and other defining moments.
To develop backstory
Like character, there is so much backstory that you need to know as a writer that will never make it into your novel. This includes world building, character history, historic events that happened in your world prior to the start of your book, and so much more! You could certainly keep a list of these events and elements, but freewriting allows you to bring those moments to life. They’ll become almost as real as your book and they’ll stick with you long after you’ve written them. They may reveal an aspect of your world or story if you hadn’t taken the time to write it all out.
To take a break
Sometimes, I just need to take a break from a problem story. In these situations, it usually doesn’t help to just watch TV or go for a walk. I need something to clear the problem out of my mind. In these instances, I’ll often freewrite something totally unrelated. Sometimes it’s a brainstorm for a new story, or sometimes it’s something related to a story I already have in progress.
Changing gears often gives me a mental break and sticking with freewriting keeps the new idea from feeling too serious. It’s also helpful because if I’m having a problem, it’s likely that I’ve been trying way too hard to get an idea to “fit” in my novel. Taking those kinds of limitations off my creativity almost never fail to recharge and refresh my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve agonized over a problem, then solved in half an hour after a half day of freewriting a different project.
One last thought
Freewriting should not be hard! If you find that it is, it’s likely that you’re putting too much energy on getting it “right.” That’s not what freewriting is about. It’s about opening up your mind and letting the ideas flow as organically and as unfiltered as possible. I’ve found that this wakes up your subconscious and gives your brain permission to set free some outlandish and wonderful ideas. Freewriting is a great exercise in trusting yourself and trusting your story. If you need some help letting go and embracing that kind of imperfection, check out this post. And for more on the benefits of freewriting, check out this article from the Writing Cooperative
I hope this gives you a good idea how the many ways you can use freewriting to solve your writing problems!
Now it’s your turn: Have you found freewriting to be helpful? Do you have your own fallback when you’re struggling? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!
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