I think my friend Claire over at Scribblings calls it free writing, while I call it writing practice, because I discovered it as a form of Zen practice in a wonderful little (but great!) book called Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.
Yea, I mention it quite often.
It’s one of the two books that got me back to writing when I was in university.
Anyway, writing practice or free writing, no matter what you call it, is one of those things writers sometimes do, basically setting a timer and writing whatever comes to mind.
How it is done?
Just like that.
You sit in a place you like, pick the writing tools you prefer (pens, pencils, loose paper, copybooks, keyboard and software… anything goes) and then you write what comes to you.
As simple – or hard – as that.
This exercise has a number of functions1:
- it works great as a solution for the dreaded writer’s block – you basically write through it, or around it.
it is a great source of snippets of good text – maybe a turn of phrase, a sentence, a few paragraphs will become the seed for a story, or provide the exact dialogue we were looking for. This works great with other exercises, such as observing the people on the street and making up stories about them.
it is a great warm-up exercise – the ideal for starting a long session of writing, a way to hit the floor running, so to speak.
it is great as a source for blog posts and other online contents2
it is a great tool for shutting up poseurs and overly-opinionated wannabes – they will come at you with their literary theories, their handbooks and their hot air… just challenge them at sitting for ten minutes and just write. They will run crying to their writing teachers and assorted gurus, and never bother you again.
Because writing practice has that effect – with time, it helps you stop talking it, and start walking it.
And walking it, that’s all it’s about.
So these days, as I spend my time in hospitals, waiting for my father to go through his analyses3, or I sit at home pretty spent, trying to decide in which way I’ll jump next, with my writing and all the rest, this is what I am doing.
I’m observing people, and I’m doing writing practice, ten minutes at a time.