The Secret of Getting Your Writing Unstuck

The Secret of Getting Your Writing Unstuck

Whenever I get stuck writing, whether it be in the pre-writing stage or in the middle of a draft, my go-to tool for getting unstuck is the free write. Take a look at how you too can use free writing to get your writing unstuck! 

What Is a Free Write?

A free write is what I’d write if I could get away with everything. Freewriting is the instant tapping into my subconscious without that pesky self-editor around.  Freewriting allows me to riff on words, phrases, and ideas like a jazz musician. A free write can unjam creative cells and help find that one germ of an idea needed to solve a problem in a story.  A free write can touch deep emotions and help me sculpt the story in a deeper and more authentic way.

Freewriting has only one rule: Do not ask, Am I doing this right? There is no right or wrong, no left or right. Freewriting is allowing your right brain to play freely with the words on the paper, while the left brain sits in the corner in a time out.

Like every other writing discipline, we have to practice it.

7 Steps to Start Using Freewriting to Get Your Writing Unstuck

1. Set a timer for ten minutes.

2. Make sure you have a plan.

3. Now write and don’t stop.

4. Write every stupid, inane, predictable thing that pops in your head.

5. Write as fast as you can, not stopping for spelling or grammar.

6. When the timer dings, set your words aside and give them an hour or two to breathe.

7. Then put on your revision hat and see what you can come up with.

It’s helpful to look at the revision of a free write as if you were a miner panning for gold. You have a bowlful of gunk, but you know if you swirl the water around, something shiny may appear. In your 500+ words of freewriting, you may find gold: one good metaphor, a new insight, perhaps one great sentence. It may not seem like much, but you would have never found it without the free write.

Still Unsure How to Use Freewriting to Get Your Writing Unstuck?

1. Ask, “What Do I Need to Discover in the Free Write?”

What does Becca do at the party before everyone eats the poison salad?

I need action. Maybe some dialogue. Or maybe I need to figure out why that glass paperweight is so important to the chief of police? I need to know what the other people in the scene are doing. I already know the basics, like why Becca has decided to poison everyone, what got them all together, who is related to whom and what they think is going to happen, but the details of the scene are sticking me.

2. Now Free Write

Need ideas?

  • Write about what you see in this scene.
  • Describe every character even though you already know what they look like.
  • Describe how they’re sitting or standing around the room.
  • Remember their secrets. Who doesn’t want to be there and why?
  • Which character thinks they’re there for another reason altogether?
  • How do the characters really feel about this scene? Write about what they would be doing if they were somewhere else?
  • Free write until you feel like you’ve exhausted every possibility, sprinted down every rabbit trail, and explored every dark corner of everyone’s mind.

Need more ideas?  Here are some emergency prompts I used for Nanowrimo!

3. Then Set It All Aside

Give your free write exercise at least a day before you revise it. When you come back to it, you’ll probably find some gold worth keeping. Don’t feel badly about discarding most of it.

Freewriting is my first and favorite tool for composing nearly anything. Much of this blog post came out of a free write on a wintery Saturday morning. I’m happy with the results (although the auto-correct keeps changing free write to ferret.)

Everything you publish should be, without question, a collaboration between your playful subconscious and the disciplined mindfulness that comes with good craftsmanship. Too much freewriting and your art becomes a stream of consciousness mess. (The world already has a Virginia Woolf. Personally, I don’t think we need another one.) Too much attention to the rules, to sounding perfect, to trying to imitate others–and our prose becomes flat and lifeless.

Freewriting is the writing of your authentic self. By practicing freewriting, your writing will be richer, you’ll know how to get your writing unstuck, and you’ll gain confidence in your abilities.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever tried freewriting to get your writing unstuck? How has it worked for you?

The Secret of Getting Your Writing Unstuck

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About Katharine Grubb | @10minnovelist

Katharine Grubb has mastered the art of freewriting because she wrote her first novel in ten-minute increments. There are probably easier ways to write a book, but with homeschooling her five children, she’ll take what she can get. Her latest book Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day was just released. She lives in Massachusetts and blogs at 10 Minute Novelists.

Comments

  1. thomas h cullen says

    Whenever you try at something, it’ll be harder than if you just spontaneously accomplished it. This was the circumstance of The Representative, having incidentally come up with the few essential story points, and then worked my way from there.

    Tactics such as the ten minute method I would only recommend as a first phase step; once the artist has found their footing, from thereon in it should all be a different mentality.

  2. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Katharine!

  3. I love freewriting! I haven’t done it for a while, so thank you for the reminder and the great tips. I’m gonna treat myself to some freewriting this weekend!

  4. I fairly new to writing book length stuff. I didn’t have a problem finding things to write about when I was just blogging or writing articles but, since I started working on novels, I find myself getting stuck from time to time. I’ve read tons of advice on writing and publishing in the last year. Almost everything I’ve read has advised that if I get stuck on a point or if I get a case of writer’s block, I should just work to write something – anything. That’s essentially what you’re saying here but with more focus on the story at hand than most of those other writers have recommended.

    I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work for me. I have to get up and walk away and let my subconscious take over. I take the dogs outside a lot when I’m at a roadblock. I make dinner. I go off and do something with my spouse. I try not to mull the writing at all. Every single day though I go back to it. Usually, after stepping away and not trying again until the next day, the words flow. If they don’t, I refocus on writing a blog post or something else to be writing and then I walk away for another day. That’s what works for me. We’re all so different.

    • We ARE different. That’s the beauty of art– we come to it differently. Freewriting is just one tool and I think that physical tasks that are somewhat mindless, like you just described, is another great tool. Glad it works for you!

  5. Oh, yes, I love free writing. It helps me blast past the inner critic. Love your ideas of using this gem as a way to mine material in a draft. How about using it for rewriting? Same thing, I suspect. Free write where the material needs work. Great post!

  6. Great advice, Katharine! I try to be consistent with my ‘morning’ pages, which achieves similar results. But your suggestions go much further. Thank you!!

  7. Brandi Griffith says

    I “free write” too when I’m brainstorming or stuck in my writing:) I do it separately from my actual manuscript but I use the best of it in my book if it has a place. If it doesn’t have a place, I change it, apply it differently, or add to my treasure chest of ideas for future writings:)

  8. The late author Brenda Ueland urged her students to “Be careless, reckless, be a lion, be a pirate! when you write!” I love that. My wife and I once had a morning discipline of meditation followed by freewriting. We would each confront the blank page, she in the kitchen and me at the diningroom table, and I would shout out a theme to kickstart some wild writing for 15 minutes. Then for 20 minutes we would attack some housecleaning. We imagined ourselves living in an ‘urban monastery.’ What fun!

  9. When it comes to free writing, I would definitely struggle with rule #5. Oh boy, would I ever! It would be like engaging in a pitched battle with my mother 😀
    I can’t even send a text message without correct punctuation and grammar 🙄

  10. Quinn Fforde says

    Yes, I do this, but I like the structure that you give it here. Mine tends to me a bit more about why my characters won’t talk to me! I will try this next time.

    • You may try bribery. Tell them they’ll have Keira Knightley or Benedict Cumberbatch play them in the movie version if they’ll get their act together and play nicely with you. Or you can slap them around, they’re fictional so they don’t bruise. 😉 Thanks for coming by today!

  11. Going into the comments section, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say. And then I read Thomas’ comment and he really nailed it.

    I think the freewriting process usually works much better at the beginning of any piece of writing. Like it or not, by the time you reach later scenes in a story, you have too many obligations, as it were, to your story to really just free write and get anything useful.

    However, I do think Katharine’s suggestion that you should ask “What do I need to discover in the free write” could definitely be useful later on in a novel when you’re stuck or struggling to figure out what needs to come next: a bridge in character development or plot or some other aspect of your already-developed novel. In that sense, just free-write until you have your a-ha moment then go back to the novel and start writing.

    I do think though it is worth deeper exploration (perhaps in another post) about when free write is most useful at the beginning of a story and when it is useful when your story is already well on its way.

    Thanks for the post!
    Joe

  12. This is a very interesting idea. I’m not sure if I would’ve thought about something like this. Something I’ve done when I wanted to learn more about a character, either a main one or some periphery character, was to pretend I was that person and write a couple journal entries for them. They don’t have to be brief, but it’s helped me to remember that even secondary characters have thoughts, feelings, and experiences that influence the things they say and do. It’s helped me to craft more authentic and interesting interactions between my characters.

    Something else I’ve done is take those quizzes in magazines and personality quizzes online as a character. The questions always make me think more about certain things, and it just helps me to flesh out personalities and quirky a little more.

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely try this as some point.

  13. Mark Williams says

    This should be practiced by writers. I think it’s a good thing to do.

  14. Elizabeth Richards says

    I have a flip notebook and fountain pen that I use to talk to myself and work out problems when writing. I’ve found that writing something by hand vs. typing can produce unexpected insights–like when I realized that Ana’s guardian might have been neglecting the estates in favor of funding expeditions and his slimy nephew might have a point about where the money is being spent. He’s still slimy (of course) but that exercise brought insight that I hope to find a place for in this book or the next.

    There’s enough research out there to suggest that picking up a pen truly does access a different part of the brain. If I know what I’m doing I type. If I need to think, I write. Of course it helps to have a notebook that lays flat and a pen that makes you smile when you pick it up.

  15. Like Elizabeth Richards (hi!) I have a little notebook where I can jot down ideas – motivations, different ways a scene could go etc. I do find ideas flow differently when I’m using pen and paper.
    Also, if a scene is just not doing what I want it to do – Characters misbehavin’, plot getting tangled up – I sometimes do one of two things:
    1. Write another scene later in the novel that I actually feel like writing. I can always edit it later if it no longer fits in the flow of the story.
    2. Write a scene in a little “backstory novella” featuring my main character. It’ll probably never see print, but it frees up the brain cells from the main story while still keeping me in the same fictionals world.
    I also have a “deleted scenes” folder – for scenes or parts of scenes that ran away with me and that I already know I can’t use like that – but maybe I still like the dialogue or what it was telling me about a minor character. You never know – I might be able to reuse some of that in a more appropriate place 😉
    Someone in a writing forum once suggested writing the scene like a really campy movie – have your characters be really stereotypical, with stilted, silly dialogue (“Oh, Robby! Save me!”). Then, when you’ve had your fun, go back to the serious writing…

  16. Chris Hunter says

    I havne’t tried freewriting but will today.

  17. I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog! I can’t wait to read your books on writing novels! I’m nearly thirteen and I’ve just started writing a novel, so your blog post have been extremely helpful to me! Thank you!

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