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How Freewriting Can Help Writers Overcome Procrastination

Freewriting in journal

by Jennifer on June 1, 2011

This is a guest post by Melissa Donovan of Writing Forward.

Procrastination among writers is a mystifying phenomenon. Aren’t we writers because we love to write, because we choose to write? So why are we constantly finding ways to avoid writing?

We’d rather clean the oven, walk the dog or scrape the gutters than face the blank page. And there is no shortage of excuses for why we can’t bring ourselves to write: there’s not enough time, our ideas aren’t good enough, we’re tired, and most of all, we’re afraid.

So, we sit around waiting to become writers. One of these days, we’ll find the time or the courage. Eventually, a masterpiece poem or an original plot will drift into our consciousness. Then, we’ll write something worth submitting, and we’ll get it published. It will all start happening soon — we’re sure of it.

Stop Postponing Your Dreams

The first step in overcoming procrastination is to stop making excuses:

  • Stop trying to find time to write and start making time. Even writers with the busiest schedules can spare ten or twenty minutes a day.
  • The quality of our work may not be professional or masterful but it will never become professional or masterful unless we practice writing regularly.
  • If we can’t work our way through the bad ideas, how can we expect to get to the good ones? We need to stop judging our ideas so harshly, give them room to breathe (write them down), and see where they lead us.
  • When the alarm goes off and we have to get up and go to work, we do it, even if we’re tired. The kids need to be fed? We feed them, even if we’re tired. We run errands, pay bills, and even exercise when we’re completely exhausted. Therefore, we can write when we’re a bit sleepy.
  • If we’re not writing, fear cannot possibly be a factor. So if we’re scared, our fear is irrational and unfounded. Write something, and then decide if it’s frightening.

Once we’ve swept aside all of our excuses, we can sit down in front of that blank page and get busy.

Freewriting

Freewriting is sometimes called stream-of-consciousness writing or discovery writing. It goes by a number of different monikers but they all refer to the same activity:

You set a limit and then you sit and write whatever comes to mind.

If luscious, frolicking lilacs come to mind, then you write that down. If purple baby unicorns come to mind, then you write about them. If nothing comes to mind, then you sit there and write the word “nothing” over and over until something else comes to mind. You just let it flow.

Your limit can be based on time or quantity: ten minutes, two pages, or 500 words are all limits that work well for freewriting sessions. Some days, you’ll be in the zone and will write well past your limit. That’s a good thing! And when you find yourself writing the word “nothing” over and over again, just keep going until you reach that minimum limit that you set for yourself.

The Benefits of Freewriting

Freewriting is one of the best ways to promote creativity and produce consistently better writing while cultivating good habits:

  • Freewriting gets ideas flowing when we’re feeling uninspired, making the blank page far less intimidating.
  • Because a freewriting session can be as short as ten minutes, it’s perfect for writers who struggle with hectic schedules.
  • Daily freewrites are good writing practice.
  • Because freewrites force us to work quickly, we don’t have time to judge or self-edit.
  • Freewriting is a great way to come up with ideas and material that can be harvested later. They’re not meant to be polished or pristine works, so there’s no pressure for perfection. Nobody has to see your freewrites except you.

Freewriting is a no-excuses approach to getting your writing done. You can do it in the morning when you wake up or at night before you go to bed. Dedicate part of your lunch break to it. There’s no pressure and you’re free to let your ideas stream onto the page. It’s a private, creative and incredibly gratifying.

Next time you find yourself out in the garden pulling weeds when you know you should be writing, stop and ask yourself what writing means to you. Let go of your fears and expectations, and then give yourself the gift of ten minutes, a page or two, or a few hundred words, and watch your writing flow and soar.

How has freewriting helped you overcome your procrastination?

About the Author: Melissa Donovan is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a website packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Note: I’m going to be on a blogging break until September. Each week throughout the summer I’ll be sharing guest posts from a bunch of different writers. If you’d like to guest post for this blog, send your idea to: jennifer@procrastinatingwriters.com.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emerald Barnes June 2, 2011 at 11:38 am

I find that freewriting helps me out tremendously when I’m stuck. If I’m in the middle of a work and can’t think of anything to write, I sit down with my notebook and pen and start writing. It frees up my mind, and even though half of it doesn’t make sense, I do come out of it with some pretty good ideas. I enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for sharing!

2 Jessica Aspen June 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

Great idea to get things going when they are stuck. I am a terrific procrastinator and have frequently considered an office in a separate building from my house due to the bizarre lure of cleaning the bathroom when I should be writing. I’ll try this next time and stay away from the evil cleaning supplies!

3 Jennifer June 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm

@Jessica Isn’t it ridiculous that we hate to clean, but then cleaning suddenly becomes appealing compared to writing when it SHOULD be the other way around!!

4 Vincent June 7, 2011 at 12:32 am

Something refreshing this year once again! Each year in fact I say each month Procrastinating Writers come up with an inspirational yet motivating post that pushes you to start writing at least for a short while in a day – that’s really rejuvenating!

I would love to start what I stopped a year back 🙁

5 Sonia G Medeiros June 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I love freewriting! I do Morning Pages daily and have been using 750words.com as it’s so much easier on my wrists to type out 3 pages instead of write them long hand. I’ve also been using freewriting when I’m working my MIP or short fiction. I’ll start writing and break into freewriting whenever I get stuck or don’t know where to go next. It’s been really helpfull.

6 Liz July 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I love free writing, and I especially love how much I learn about myself and my view of the world while doing it. It’s such a valuable exercise. I used to handwrite, then I used 750words.com for a while. Now I set it up as its own project in Scrivener. Love the ability to search what I’ve written. Sometimes ideas for scenes in my book just pop out while writing. Great article, Melissa!

7 Amy Balcomb March 4, 2012 at 3:55 am

I’m an undergrad student studying Creative Writing with Music Composition. I’ve just got to a project about Free Writing and as part of my research, I came across this website. Great thoughts about it. I’m definintely going to try the 750words.com website – my wrists cannot cope with all this scrawling! Although i do love keeping notebooks. It feels like a private treasure-trove of ideas that I can dip in and out of. If anyone has any other useful tips, then please feel free to email me. Us students (especially usmature ones!) need all the help we can get :0)

8 Renee April 24, 2013 at 7:04 pm

(This is long and I apologize in advance.)
I remember I did this very same exercise in my English Composition class the first week or so of classes. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me to even begin the ten minutes of nonstop writing. Then there was the whole “no backspacing or pausing” thing. It was awful for me, because I’m so used to backspacing my mistakes or pausing to think about how exactly I want to form a sentence. It took several tries before I was actually comfortable enough to begin the process. Once that first hurtle was over with, I had to deal with just making it through ten minutes of writing. A person never really gets a feel or understanding of how much time is put into writing until they have to actually time themselves. Ten minutes, when working on this activity was the longest ten minutes of my writing LIFE! I saved the piece I wrote, and once I went through it (cringing at all the mistakes and nonsense), I noticed I complained about having to writing for ten minutes at least twelve different times. That, over all, was my entire activity page; me just complaining that the activity was the worse idea and I wanted the ten minutes to be over.
However, I do try this free-writing activity at least once a day, if not more. Because I enjoy writing so much and love that power of creating my own world however I see fit, I first do the free-writing activity for ten to fifteen minutes, and once I have all the mess that’s crawling around my head out, I begin to write what I want and it turns out beautifully. It really does help you get out all the nonsense that’s causing your mind to halt and have that infamous “writers-block”. I’d recommend it to all the writers of the world.

9 Jennifer April 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm

@Renee For some people 10 minutes of free writing is torturous. For others it’s as simple as breathing. Kudos to you for sticking with it, even when it was difficult. I personally love free writing and do it daily in the form of Morning Pages. Works for me!

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