What’s all the fuss about freewriting? You may have noticed that many of our writing prompts include the use of freewriting. But what is it and why do we think it’s important?
Imagine you want to run a marathon. You can’t just turn up on the day and hope for the best, you need to train. And that’s what freewriting is to writing – training. You gain experience in getting words onto a page. You learn not to fuss and then end up never starting. You learn that you have a voice. It may sometimes make absolutely no sense to an outsider but that doesn’t matter because freewriting is an exploratory space. The main idea of freewriting (sometimes known as automatic or continuous writing) is to just keep going, even if you end up writing the same word over and over. It’s not generally intended for public performance but as you get more familiar with it you will be able to comfortably write on a specific topic or knowingly for an audience.
In school there is a lot of pressure on children to produce polished, ‘high stakes’ writing. A common response to this pressure is to only allow children to write in a highly scaffolded, controlled way. But children (and adults) need space for playful ‘low stakes’ writing which allows them to develop at their own pace. Just as we gain spatial awareness through playing with lego bricks, so we learn awareness of the craft of writing through playing with words. This may only mean 5 minutes of freewriting a day, but it will have an impact.
Freewriting offers a space to play with all areas of writing: language, ideas, style, genre, spelling, punctuation and grammar. Many times we have worked with children and adults using a piece of their freewriting as a starting point and then working into it making revisions and editing until it becomes a polished piece of work. We use freewriting with adults and children because it loosens up and exercises their writer’s ‘muscle’ and introduces a real energy, voice and presence into their writing.
Peter Elbow is a great proponent of freewriting and sums it up perfectly: ‘It is a space for exploring the mind and language–but it must be also be a space for triviality, nonsense, garbage.’ Visit his website to read more about freewriting: http://peterelbow.com/index.html