You may have heard of free flow writing. But what exactly is it? And what is it used for? This form of writing has grown in popularity in the last few years as a journaling technique specifically. And it can take a lot of different forms.
What is Free Flow Writing?
Free flow writing or free writing is a writing technique where you start writing continuously for a set amount of time. When you’re free writing, the goal is to let your writing flow without worrying about grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or even word choice. Just pen your pen to paper and keep writing.
You can start small with 10 minutes or even 15 minutes set on the timer. Then begin to write anything that comes to mind. When you freewrite, your brain takes over. You can write without consciousness. And it becomes a type of automatic writing that helps you get your thoughts and emotions on paper without barriers.
What is Free Flow Writing Used For?
There are lots of reasons why you might want to try free writing. A lot of people use free writing as a creative writing exercise to get your thoughts flowing. This practice is also a great tool for overcoming writer’s block. It can be used as a precursor to more extensive writing or journaling. But freewriting can be its own type of journaling altogether.
When we are journaling, we may be still thinking about outlines, paragraphs, structures. That’s natural. Our entire academic careers as students focused on writing in this way. But with free flow writing, we have the ability to let things go and release our minds to the pages. That’s why it’s a great technique for processing emotions, deepening our self-discovery, and even letting go of what keeps us from opening up our minds.
6 Tips for How to Start Free Flow Writing
The main purpose of free flow writing is to write whatever comes to mind. But there are some tips that may help you get started. Especially if freewriting sounds like a foreign language.
Tip #1 - Start a blank page in your journal
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Turn to a new, blank page in your journal before you begin to freewrite. If you pick up where you left off on your last journal entry, chances are you’re going to be influenced by what you’ve already written. So, start fresh. Dedicate a fresh page or even an entirely new journal to your free flow writing. While you could do this on a computer, there is something powerful about handwritten words that connects the body to the mind in this practice.
Tip #2 - Set a timer
Before you put your pen to paper, determine how long you want to write for. It doesn’t have to be long. Start with five, ten, or fifteen minutes. Whatever feels doable. This set amount of time is a key piece to enjoying freewriting. If you set out to freewrite for endless hours, your ideas will inevitably run out. Our brains are only capable of so much creative flow at one time. And that defeats the purpose of the practice. The point of the timer is not about writing faster, it's about writing without stopping.
Tip #3 - Pick a prompt (or don’t)
This tip is optional. So take it or leave it. But one idea you could try for freewriting is to use journaling prompts. These can help focus your mind and may help you start writing more easily. Journaling prompts can help you feel like there are at least guard rails to the exercise. If you’re worried about your mind wandering or if the thought of completely unstructured writing gives you anxiety, then pick a prompt, write it at the top of your blank page, and begin.
At Silk+Sonder we have several different journaling prompts lists you could choose from:
- Journaling prompts for anxiety
- Journaling prompts for self-discovery
- Journaling prompts for when you don’t know what to write about
Tip #4 - Start writing, no hesitating
And go! This is when the fun begins. Start moving your pen. Start writing. You may be surprised at what comes out. This stream of consciousness writing can result in short stories you didn’t realize you were capable of telling. It may result in processed emotions you didn’t realize you were feeling. It may just be a series of disconnected thoughts that you piece together later when rereading what you wrote. You’ll get a sense of what it means to release your thoughts to paper after you freewrite a few times. The key is just to keep your hand moving.
Tip #5 - Stop when it’s time to stop
Don’t be an overachiever. When the timer goes off, stop. Part of why this technique works is that you begin and you end. There are bookends to your writing flow. It is not meant to be a finished work that is polished and ready for publication. Instead, automatic writing holds its value in the writing process itself.
Tip #6 - Read your writing
After you’re finished writing in you journal, read what you wrote. You can do this immediately or you can go back to read it later. Either way, treat your "free written" words like a story, your own book, and insight into your mind. Reading it can be beneficial. It may help you make connections about moments in your life. It may give you confidence when it comes to your writing. You may think, “Look what I did in ten minutes without really even thinking about it?” And it may make you laugh and see the fun and silliness of your thoughts. That can be therapeutic too.
Examples of free flow writing
There are several writers that have brought free writing or automatic writing into the mainstream in the 20th century. A few examples of writers who have shared their definition and practice of free flow writing include:
- Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer (1934)
- Jack Kerouac “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” (1958)
- Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers (1975)
- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (1986)
- Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992)
More information on each of these writers and their individual practices is available online.
At this point hopefully you’re inspired to at least try free flow writing. It can be a powerful way to let go of our preconceived notions about writing and release our minds. Check out our other tips for journaling and how to make journaling a habit!