How to Use Freewriting to Write Better Novels

As writers, most of us are familiar with the exercise of freewriting. Dorothea Brande, Peter Elbow, and Julia Cameron were all fond of the technique. Sit down and write continuously for a set period of time or pages, no stopping allowed. You write whatever comes to your mind without worrying over grammar, spelling, or sense.

Brain dumping is another way to make sense of our crazy minds. We jot out anything and everything in our heads so we have a physical representation of the thought. In a sense, freewriting is a formal version of the brain dump. Instead of listing out the things in our messy brains, we find one and we write complete sentences.

While freewriting can sometimes ramble, brain dumps are meant to pull specific topics out of our heads. It becomes more laser focused on an idea. There are obvious benefits to both, and you should be using each to help strengthen your writing and creativity.

As you begin to write a novel, these techniques can be applied to further your progress. Instead of using these processes for consistency purposes or exercises, here’s how you can use them to improve your ideas, plan your book, and finish your novel.

Freewrite a new book idea

If you don’t have a book idea, use a brain dump for some of the things you might have spinning around your head. From that list of ideas, pick the top five or so and set a timer. Freewrite on each topic for the allotted time, take a break, and move on to the second one. If there’s one that got your attention, you have a new book idea! Do another freewriting session and elaborate on what you wrote before.

If you don’t have an idea, find some prompts online or have friends contribute. Do a brain dump of all the things you can think of about for that prompt. List them out as quickly as you can. Once you have those ideas out, go back and formalize things. Try to plot out how the book might go or what steps are involved in the story.

Freewrite out the kinks

One of my favorite things to do when I hit a snag in my book is to freewrite out the kinks. It’s like having a conversation with myself, because freewriting is much more socially acceptable than talking to yourself. I write myself through some of the hiccups and try to solve the problem I’ve found. Sometimes I write about having to go back and fix something in a previous chapter to make this concept work or I try to consider new solutions or new trajectories.

Freewrite your characters

When I’m trying to create a new character, I do a brain dump of every characteristic I want this new person to have. From there, I can either freewrite their backstory or I can elaborate on the impact I want them to have in the future.

I also do some freewriting in character. By writing from the perspective of my character, I can get in the mood for their speaking style, personality, and feelings. It helps me flesh out who they are and any quirks they might have to make them unique in the story.

Freewrite through “writer’s block”

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do struggle with a blank page sometimes. I always want to create the perfect start, but that’s never going to happen on the first try. To help get over my fear of the blank page, I like to freewrite how the story goes. Because the freewriting is not part of the book, I can start however I want, as shaky as I want, and as informal as I want. Starting the writing process, even through a freewrite, is a great way to get the momentum started.

Freewrite the best parts

Sometimes I come up with a brilliant new idea, but it’s for a new book or a different piece of writing I’m working on. Or, I come up with a great plot twist that I need to write before I forget it, but I’m also in the middle of a different chapter. When I have those “aha” moments, I use a freewrite and brain dump to get all the ideas out on the page. This way I will never forget those good ideas, I can influence my characters toward a decision, I know which easter eggs to drop, or I can discover that idea doesn’t actually work.

Freewrite through your inner editor

If I take a moment away from my writing, inevitably my inner editor will come back to haunt me. By starting my writing process with a freewrite of where I want this next section going and what I want to happen, I can effectively silence my inner editor. It not only helps me get through the blank page, I can pick up writing my novel without the fear of my inner editor nagging me about sentence structure.

Freewrite with your attention

Squirrel! We are all prone to distractions, either from our physical environment or from our racing mind. Even if we make a brain dump before, we will inevitably have a thought come up while we are freewriting. While keeping your pen to the page, continue writing and follow that squirrel idea wherever it goes. When you get bored chasing it, go back to where you are.

Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a freewriting sentence when an “aha” moment comes to me. Either I can finish that sentence or I put a “/” where I am and continue with the new thought. I can either follow that to the end or I can find a new one to follow. I never know when an idea is going to be the best thing ever, so it never hurts to keep all of them in the running.

After all of my writing is done, I take a few minutes at the end of my session to write some more. My last act is to freewrite or brain dump one more time, usually less than five minutes, about where the story is going and what I need to do when I pick it up again. Using this time to hash out a future plan helps me start thinking about the next chapter or scene. Even if I’m not writing, this session helps me take the time to think and develop the scene in my head. When I sit down to write again, I have an idea of where my focus needs to be.

Originally published on Medium. Huge thanks to The Writing Cooperative for the publication.

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