Free Writing

What is it, and is it worth the effort?

Free Writing

A simple web search for free writing reveals that it is a pre-writing technique wherein a person just sits and starts writing for a prearranged amount time. Everything is ignored—spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, topic—it’s meant to loosen the mind grapes; it’s meant to warm up the creative muscles, and without the obstruction of self-judgment, just write.

I think it’s a terrible practice, but I’ll explain why soon enough.

People think of free writing as a prelim exercise or a warm up of sorts. If you’re getting ready to lift weights, you’re not going to begin with 300lbs on the squat rack; you’ll pull every muscle you have, but creativity is not the same as lifting weights. Writing is not an athletic feat, and you cannot edit your squats after you’ve performed them, nor can you strengthen your body if you don’t perform squats properly from the first rep—matter of fact, you can really hurt yourself.

I was speaking to some fellow writers, and all of them agreed that free writing was great. They all performed at least an hour of free writing everyday, and they felt a great sense of accomplishment. I asked them each if any of them had employed their free writing beyond the exercise it is. They did not understand my question.

I explained that all the time they spent free writing is better spent writing an actual story. Stories can be released to blogs and other venues—Vocal Media, for instance….

Most of them stated that they only used free writing to warm up. It’s what they had been taught in their creative writing courses—another rip off—and that after they free wrote, they moved on to their topic of predilection; a short story, their novel in progress, the outline for a screenplay, etc. They were all in accord that free writing allowed them the time they needed to warm up their creative juices in order to avoid judging their own works too harshly.

I said, “You should judge your work harshly. You should judge your work more harshly than anyone else. If you think your work is crap, you should not be releasing it for public consumption.”

You see, regardless of how bad your work might be, you can always, and really should always…hire an editor. Too many so called “writers” aren’t hiring editors, which is fine if they intend to release their work for free, or don’t intend to release their work at all.

This, of course, led to severe backlash. Eventually, they thought they were correcting me by pointing out that they did not release their free writing for public consumption. I then pointed out that in the course of 5 years I have released over 30 title because I don’t waste time free writing, nor do I make any attempt at exonerating my bad writing; I use it, I edit it, I read and reread my own terrible work, so that I can edit it to the point where I no longer cringe or laugh at my horrendous display.

Furthermore, it’s imperative writers think in proper grammar and with punctuation; it helps one to prevent as many mistakes during the writing process, and so far as creativity is concerned, it comes from thinking about a story or topic until it consumes you.

I think, and I think, and I think until I can see the story, smell the dirt, the wet leaves, hear the distant howls of wolves, feel the heat of the sun on my scalp; creativity comes from thinking, pondering, not sitting down and writing pure crap for an indefinite amount of time, and in the end, what good does that free writing do?

No one was able to answer coherently, but one person said that they had pounded out over fifty pages by free writing. After further questioning, it turned out that this person was slowly free writing a novel, bit-by-bit, everyday, and I asked about plot holes, consistency, character growth, suspense, but they knew nothing of these concepts and asked me why any of them mattered. I replied that if they didn’t know, they needed to spend more time reading and less time free writing.

Finally, I asked them how long they intended to drag their process out, just to make conversation. The person admitted that they had no clue; they were just writing, of course. They didn’t understand how people wrote whole books, books that tend to be 100–200 pages long. The person also added that whenever they wrote freely, it was impossible to fill up that many pages.

Well, derp, right? I didn’t say that, but man, I wanted to….

“How do authors make their stories long,” the person asked me.

Believe it or not, I was thankful that this person had the good sense to ask me questions rather than blindly follow the advice of those other writers. I always try to instill that while I may not know everything, I am certainly always open to a friendly discussion; no egos; just processes and results.

“Books are often much longer than that,” I told the aspiring writer, “but writers of those books just have a longer story to tell. There's nothing wrong with being a writer of short stories or novellas. Some of the greatest stories are short. Whatever you do, don't drag a story out to fill pages. Just write from the heart.”

I then clarified that writing from the heart does not mean free writing, and so here is my full take on free writing:

Free writing is crap. No writer has ever free written a whole book, nor should one make such an attempt. To write a whole book, you have to think about an idea. You have to obsess over it, mold it, let it grow, change, and develop. You have to go back to your previous chapters so that you can make the next chapters flow chronologically, sequentially, smoothly! You have to write, and then read, and then write more based on what you already wrote, and then read that, and so on!

Free writing is like taking a picture on your phone of something that looks interesting. Writing a book is like chiseling a horse from a block of marble; it takes time, passion, thought, creativity, and a great deal of editing because you will not like what you wrote originally, and so it is your duty to scrutinize your work and improve it. The second you sit back and think to yourself that you’re done, that what you wrote is good enough, you’ve lost the game.

If you want to free write, free write, and if after you’ve free written, you think you have something that you can turn into a story, that’s great, but you are going to have to really delve into your psyche, your life’s experience, and your thoughts and wishes to create a real world with living characters. It doesn’t end there either. Your story must have “a story to tell”. Otherwise there is no reason for anyone to read it, and for those who might read it, they won’t find anything to which they can relate.

So what is the point of free writing? Just write your story so that you have it, and once it’s completed, edit the sucker until you don’t hate it. Then, hire a professional editor.

I think free writing crap and should be avoided. Rather than free writing, you should be spending your time thinking about a story you actually care to write; yeah, you gotta’ care about your work! Then, jot pieces of it down a little at a time; these pieces are not free writing; these pieces are written for a reason—to add a jigsaw piece to the puzzle that is the story. Eventually, the story will get such a stranglehold on you that you have to write it to completion. Then, of course, it’s time to edit, find peer editors, beta-readers, and hire a real editor, one who can help you to present your story to your target audience.

Finally, it is my personal take that free writing is crap. I always tell you all to do what works for you, but is free writing working for you? Is it really?

All you’re doing is practicing bad writing; you are ignoring spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency, on purpose, to boot! Whatever you practice becomes ingrained, right? Practice makes perfect, right? Wrong! Practice makes permanent; if you practice your dance moves incorrectly for an hour everyday, you’ll dance poorly when it’s time to perform, and the same goes for writing. Free writing is just a way to train your brain to function incorrectly, but who am I to judge…?

You can learn more about editing here.

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Aaron Dennis

Creator of the Lokians SciFi series, The Adventures of Larson and Garrett, The Dragon of Time series, and more.

See all posts by Aaron Dennis