At the end of 2015, I didn’t think much of it.
I would open my Macbook and dabble in Scrivener with little expectations. I’d go through my craft books and try new things, practice old techniques, sharpen my skills.
Now fast-forward to today.
I pick up my scuffed Android phone that’s been dropped more times than the bass in EDM songs, open up its calculator app, and punch in 27x 20.
27 stands for the number of freewrite documents that I’ve completed. 20 stands for the average number of pages per document.
So you could probably understand my initial shock when I ran those numbers.
540 pages. Of just freewriting. That’s more pages than some novels!
No plot. No story.
Just scrabbles, dabbles, and ideas.
And that’s what I want to talk to ya’ll about here. The good things that happen when I made freewriting a habit.
1.) I Realized That There Is No Such Thing As Running Out Of Ideas
You may run out of ideas at that moment in time due to burnout, but you can’t “run out of ideas”.
It’s impossible. I realized this when I began the personal experiment writing 10,000 words a day.
I’d always think that I’d hit some kind of peak or brain fart, but in reality that never happened. Instead, I only got tired. Sure that tiredness made me want to stop, but the ideas themselves never did.
Even when you find yourselves coming back to the same ideas, you never represent them in the same way. Coffee shop settings and oceans are my poison. So are dawns and sunsets. But every dawn and sunset is never the same. One dawn might look thick and oily like a Van Gogh. Another might look streaky and wet like bleeding watercolors. But the associations and portrays are endless and that makes those old ideas fresh again.
And the good thing is that when you keep a bank, you have ideas that you can go back to at any time. It’s especially useful for when things get slow.
2.) My Writing Improved Much Faster Compared To Only Writing My Novels
This I chalk up to the fact that it’s naturally more difficult to shove something into a story. To me a story is like a living breathing creature. Feed it good stuff and it’ll stay healthy for quite a bit.
Feed it garbage from the abyss? Well, don’t be surprised if it keels over like a dead goldfish. Or mutates.
With a novel you have to worry about character motivations, story plot, people’s wants, and making sense. Freewriting? Not so much.
However, the lack of structure and novel rules are what helped me improve most because the average freewriting pieces might just be a bunch of jumbled words, phrases, and sentences that I type down fast. So across on a page, I can do a lot of iterations of the same kind of exercise, push the results that I like, toss out the duds, and adjust everything as needed.
This kind of approach became infinitely more helpful than “do random stuff I see in a How-To book and try it once or twice and then give up in frustration” kind of thing.
And as a result, the stuff I’ve learned sticks a lot quicker.
3.) I Embraced The “Go With The Flow” Mentality More And Let Go Of Having Strict Expectations
I don’t know about you, but nothing short-circuits my brain quite like saying, “I’m going to sit down and write about A/B/C/D/ insert-said-topic-here.” The moment I sit down and do that my brain usually says, “Nah, don’t feel like it right now.”
Naturally, you can imagine that would make writing a nightmare. It did. I would get frustrated when scenes spiraled out of control and try to power wrestle plot back into the order I had on my outlines. And when I tried to write about things and try to push scenes, they felt flat.
Now this doesn’t mean I’m advocating any kind of “only write when inspired” mentality. That’s bullshit and it gets nothing done.
But what I did learn from freewriting is to remove my chokehold from my work. And instead of tossing in the towel, I started to get an intuitive feel for the way what works in my writing and what doesn’t. Also, I learned to let better scenes surface without force.
4.) I Started Thinking More “Outside The Box”
This one is more of a recent development that I’m excited about. And one that I’d like to push the bar on even more in the future.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with how stories are presented, and how to incorporate the entire book in the act of storytelling. One way this surfaces is in my book Vicissitude where the book is structured in the form of a temple. So from the very moment you see it on the product page, you are already engaged into this sort of pilgrimage.
But a few days ago, another idea had crossed my mind. I was writing my other novel and I’d been a bit concerned because the new MC I’m dealing with loves cooking, but it seemed impractical and impossible to get him to cook all the time in the story.
I was wondering if I’d have to change him from being a mailman to being a chef, but that seemed even worse.
A freewrite gave me a solution like this:
Half-cup skin like fresh cream. Sprinkle in skeins of cinnamon for her long hair, ends that curl like swirls. Pert lips in a strawberry smile. Eyelashes that flutter more gently than powdered sugar.
A big man. Toasted deeply with small raisin eyes baked in. Arms tough as whole roasts and his face seasoned with no-nonsense.
Of course, I have to refine the technique some more, but the idea of a character seeing his world and the people around him in cooking term is something that I’m playing around with and I find that it’s a lot of fun.
Because think about it…smells and tastes are usually the hardest to incorporate into a novel. We see with our eyes all the time, but we don’t eat and smell things all the time. But I figure that this way, it’s a lot easier to engage those neglected senses and my MC is still cooking without actually making him cook unnecessarily.
5.) I Started Getting Better At Capturing Raw Emotions And Intriguing Moments By Being Fully Present
Writing about feelings is hard.
We don’t always understand why that grandma on the corner pisses us off even though she’s not doing anything. We don’t understand why we cry suddenly in the middle of doing something completely mundane. We barely understand ourselves, and yet somehow as writers we’re expected to carefully choreograph someone’s emotions and photoshop them to make it seem realistic.
But for me, freewriting helped me out by acting a little bit like meditation. Sink into the present moment, focusing on the sensations and let the distracting thoughts pass peacefully. Or in some cases, let them inspire you.
It became a hell of a lot easier to sit still in the chair for a writing session after freewriting compared to doing it cold. And when I did freewrite, I didn’t get stuck as often in the middle of it because I was “warmed up”.
6.) And Finally…
One of the biggest benefits I’ve had with freewriting is becoming happier with my writing as a whole. It’s definitely a habit I’m keeping up with.
I’m looking forward to another 500+ pages of freewriting ideas to look back on and comb through to discover some old diamonds I left behind.
Until next time~