The Whys and Hows of Freewriting

I thought it would be good to get back to the topic of writing because lately I’ve been stuck. I can’t think of a single thing to write about.  I am fresh out of ideas.  And because I am stuck, I have been spending my writing time doing some fairly non-writing things, including checking my email, which is about as far from productive writing as you can get.

So, to get unstuck, I did some freewriting.  I just allowed myself to write whatever jibberish came to my head for a few days, and then I started to find my compass.  I started to have ideas and get unstuck.  And I thought to myself – what an awesome tool freewriting is!  Everyone should do it.

Why should EVERYONE be freewriting?

If you are a writer, or if you have to write a lot for your job, you may think of freewriting as a waste of time.  You shouldn’t be wasting valuable time droning on and on about whatever – you should be focused on the task at hand!

But if you are stuck and avoiding your writing then you are wasting valuable time anyway.  You are not going to get unstuck just sitting there staring at the screen or finding 5,000 things to do instead of your writing.  You’ve got to activate your creativity muscles, and the only way to do that is to get all the other junk out of your head and onto paper.

But what if you are not a writer or don’t write a lot for your job?  Why should you be writing at all?   

Because writing helps you make sense of the jumble of thoughts and feelings in your head.

Writing is thinking, and if you have tons of thoughts swirling in your head every day, the best way to make sense of them is through freewriting.  In fact, until you start freewriting regularly, you may not even know how much you have going on up there.  

Writing is also cathartic – the number one way to feel better when you are down or someone has just totally ticked you off. Fill up the page with what a total imbecile that person was and how unbelievable their behavior was.  Freewrite your sorrows away.  By the time you are done, you will probably have several pages written and feel a whole lot better.

Getting Started with Free Writing

So, where should you freewrite?  Paper or go electronic?  Online, on your phone, in a document on your computer?    So many questions to answer.

I actually have multiple journals – both paper and electronic – and they each serve a different purpose for me.

Paper Journals

I keep three paper journals: (1) a  5-year memory book, a clothed-covered embroidered journal from Punctuate that I got from Barnes and Noble, and an Awesomeness journal.  The 5 year memory book  is where I write a few lines each night about my day to capture the essence of it.  This journal allows me to skim my year and see the things and thoughts that resonated with me. It’s also a pretty good marker of how quickly the year is passing, so warning on that front!

The purple cloth-embroidered journal is for longer thoughts.  I always take it when I travel and have time to really get into details about my experiences.  I use it to write more deeply about the kids birthdays or their milestones or exceptional snow storms.  While these are all pretty memorable in and of themselves, it’s nice to go back and relive those moments through my writing.

The awesomeness journal I received as a present from my husband for Mother’s Day this year.  It is exactly how it is described – a journal where you write down all the awesome things that you did on a particular day.  Now before you find that to be extremely self-centered and egotistical, let me explain. If you are like most females and a fair share of men (in other words – you are human), you might be a wee bit critical of yourself.   The awesomeness journal is meant to counteract that by chronicling  all the really great things that you do every day but never give yourself any credit for.  It is amazing how good it makes you feel to give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while.

Most of what I write in paper journals is positive. I don’t write down memories in the five-year memory book that I don’t want to remember – same for the embroidered purple journal.  And of course, there’s never anything negative in the Awesomeness journal.

But sometimes, bad stuff happens and you get upset about it.  If you’ve seen the movie Inside Out, you know that  joy isn’t the only emotion out there.  And when I am not feeling the joy, I write about it in my online journal.

Online Journals

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing to the Bones suggests that you not use a very nice notebook to write in because then you might be tempted to write only very nice things or very neatly or things of publishable quality.  If you want to really get things off your chest, she suggests, you need a really crappy spiral ring or composition notebook.

Personally, I’ve never been inspired to freewrite with real abandon in a plain vanilla notebook.  I’m too afraid that someone will find it and read it. And Natalie’s absolutely right – I only write very nice things in my paper journals, and I do try to write very neatly.

That’s why I keep a secret online journal that is private. Okay – so it’s not so secret now that I’ve told you, but it is still private. Go ahead and try  – you’ll never find it.  This is where I do my most productive freewriting.  My fingers fly over the keyboard when I write in my online journal and I pay no attention whatsoever to spelling, grammar or run-on sentences. When someone has ticked me off so much that I can barely breathe, I write about it in my online journal.  When I am trying to figure out what to do about something, I write about it there.  When I first started working on my blog, I wrote all of my entries in my online journal first. It’s my safe space.  And because it is so safe, it has some of my best writing – not that you will ever get to read it.

There are a lot of online journals out there, and they also have mobile apps so that you can write whenever the spirit moves you.  Some that I have used included Penzu, Day One, Jrnl and LiveJournal.  Recently, I’ve started keeping a work journal using Jrnl.   My work journal helps me to figure out if I am spending my time productively and on what I should be focusing.  My goal is to write for at least 10 minutes before I leave for the day.  This has been challenging because when the day comes to an end, the last thing I generally want to do is then write about it.  The trick is to shut everything down at least 10 minutes early – which is also challenging.  But when I have managed to achieve that, I find that those few minutes of writing brings me closure on my day and helps me leave the work at work when i walk out the door.

Freewriting is like talking to a best friend whose a great listener. It doesn’t judge you, it doesn’t try to give you advice – it just lets you blow off your steam and figure things out for yourself.  Keeping a journal can also be a great way to chronicle your life – to relive all the great stuff that happens too.  

So pick out your journal and start writing.

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