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Exercise: Need an idea? Try a free write.

Stream-of-consciousness exercises are a great way to overcome one of the hardest parts about writing: getting started.

Free writing is a technique that comes in handy when you’re having trouble choosing a topic to write about, or when you can’t manage to make it past that first sentence or two. It’s also an effective way to combat self-critical thoughts and anxiety about deadlines.

Here’s how it works:

First decide how long you want to free write for, then set a timer. Five to ten minutes is a good start, but feel free to challenge yourself with a longer session.

Ready? Go! Don’t prepare anything — just start writing everything that pops into your head, regardless of how nonsensical or bizarre it is. Don’t even bother with grammar and punctuation — just keep your fingers typing, and don’t stop until the timer goes off. (If you find yourself on a roll, by all means, keep writing!)

The final step? Analyze the results.What sentences catch your attention? Did you find a new way to articulate what’s on your mind? Did you remember something funny or interesting? Did you explore a new perspective on an issue?

Remember that free writes don’t have to generate lots of usable content to be valuable. They’re simply intended to help you generate new ideas, organize your thoughts, and get unstuck.

Here’s a ten-minute exercise to get you started (use your browser’s back button to return to your work after time is up). If you give it a try, let us know how it goes!

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  1. I do this before most writing sessions for NaNoWriMo. It’s a great way to get the fingers going and blow off steam from the day. It’s also good to practice writing without editing, since that’s what NaNoWriMo is about!

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  2. Free Writing is an excellent way to get the words flowing! Your post reminded me of something I had written previously, at a time when I had the exact opposite of writer’s block. My composition itself became formed and defined through the style of free-writing. It was an enjoyable experience that provided me with lots of laughter for quite a while afterwards.

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  3. I’ve done this before and it’s a great way to get your thoughts in order. (One could argue that my whole blog is stream of consciousness at its worst). For anyone who’s thinking of giving this a go, my best advice would be to just relax and let it all out. Try not to think about it and just do it.

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  4. I took a wild ride and tried the 10 minute free writing exercise. I wrote my heart out. For some reason it wouldn’t even allow me to look at it afterwards. Disappointed doesn’t come close to how I felt when the screen said “Time’s up! Stop writing! Return to writing page by clicking on BACK button.” And there is NO back button. Period.

    Great idea.

    Sarah

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  5. Para mim não é tão fácil de escrever sem pensar, eu costumo me programar para escrever. Talvez seja a idade não? Por sinal eu sou muito caxias.
    Mina!

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  6. A free-writing exercise runs counter to everything I’ve done as a professional writer. I reported world news from 20 countries as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, AP and UPI in the 80s and 90s. Nowadays I train business people around the globe to write better corporate English. My message to them is to think before they write, structure their thoughts before they commit to writing by applying the inverted pyramid principle. We can all type fast. It’s what we type that counts. I post writing tips on my blog and I always figure out what I want to write before I start doing it. But I suppose someone who suffers from writer’s block can be helped by free writing. I rarely get writer’s block but when I do I go for a walk, think of something else for a while.

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    1. There’s a difference between writing and publishing, and also a difference between creative writing and professional journalism.

      Free writing exercises are a way to help get ideas, or even just words, down so you have something to work with. Most writing programs in most universities teach some kind of free writing technique, as it’s hard to revise if there are no words on the page.

      I agree with you – you should not necessarily publish anything you happen to put down. I also agree, for some writers, some of the time, an outline and some premeditation works wonders.

      But anything that helps get you started and on your way is better than staring at a blank page praying for miracles.

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  7. I have seen this technique mentioned by a blogger friend of mine, who noticed it on another blog by Copyblogger. From memory, Copyblogger follows this routine with his/her students at school. They are given 3 minutes to write anything they can think of. Ever since I have read that, I have been meaning to give this a go but I seem to be preparing unconsciously for a topic to write once I sit down for the exercise. But that is not what I want to do. I should not be prepared and it should just be on the spur of the moment thing. So will surely give it a try and will be glad to share what I come up with :-). It will be interesting to see what others come up with too.

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  8. This is actually they way I write in my blog, all the time! Well, sometimes i use some topics but mostly the topics are born out of my what i write. And, it’s also what makes me feel good about writing! To just open up (which is hard when in comes to speaking) and let things out.

    Times to times it might get a little hard to understand to some of the readers, but most of the time they get the feeling and that’s the important thing. My blog isnt a big one, but it’s mine a free writing blog 🙂

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  9. I have to say, I write in Swedish – but don’t hesitate to use any form or translating program if you guys are curious (and if you have some feedback I’d be very happy!)

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  10. I tried doing this, and I had a lot of fun! My free write was very random, but it was also interesting too. This also gave me the idea to write a blog about free writing, since I didn’t come up with anything the entire day. I think I’ll keep doing more of these.

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  11. Free writing is a great way to “just get started” (which is often the most difficult part of writing for me – staring at a blank screen/page can be so intimidating!). Once I get started, though, I usually have no problem to just keep on going, Thanks for providing a link to help facilitate this.

    Another tool (and app) I use is mywritingspot.com. You may be interested in checking it out…

    Stef
    smilekiddo.wordpress.com

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  12. I totally did the 10 minute free write, but I couldn’t go back to the page. It apparently closed that window and opened a new one or something. I just wrote my thoughts so no big deal, but I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Oh well.

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  13. This is fun. I tried it and I was like typing in lightning speed. It’s no joke but I enjoyed writing down my thoughts. I think it’s a good way to just release whatever you feel like.

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  14. It’s a good idea, but I lost my writing. When time was up, a new window popped up so there was no way to use the back button.

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  15. Hi Erica,
    Your idea works wonderfully. A couple of years ago, I had never written regularly, and now, through the very same concept you suggested, I have no problem just writing. In fact, I write too much and have to force myself to cut if back. Verbosity, on the keyboard, (he,he) and of course, I am guilty in person as well.

    I am still trying to attract some “blogging buddies,” as I have just one so far. Anybody still looking? I write a lot and I talk a lot!
    Take care, Charlie

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  16. This is interesting thanks.

    I have a fiction writer’s blog and I expanded on the issue of free writing for fiction ideas at my blog.

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