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Creative Writing Exercises for Freewriting
  • Creative Writing Exercises for Freewriting

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    Stalking the Wild Inspiration

    Earlier, we likened the writer to the athlete. The sprinter who wins Olympic gold in several seconds of inspired speed has run hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles in preparation. His entire body is primed and conditioned, and when the crucial moment comes, he is ready to bring every ounce of speed he can muster to the running of the big race. The writer, too, comes to the page every day, and writes word after word. The words pile up on top of one another, thousands upon thousands, as the writer keeps writing. Not every word is inspired. Many are throw-aways, just practice, like the miles of jogging the sprinter has put behind him. When inspiration does come -- a great idea for a novel or story that strikes like a bolt of electricity in the middle of the night -- the writer is ready to do it justice. She has run miles and miles in preparation. Her fingers are primed to spin the story out, to make the best of the idea that has come to her out of nowhere. She is ready to run the race to the finish line.

    Exercise: Keep a Journal. Get yourself a notebook of some kind to use as your journal. Set aside some time each day to write in it, and carry it around with you (or buy a second, smaller notebook for this purpose). While you can write about nearly anything you want, give yourself one rule: You're not going to dwell on yourself or your feelings, but instead on the world around you. Tell about the world as you see it. Describe the place you're in right now. Describe an interesting person you met recently, or whom you work with. Simply put down a series of words that seem to go together somehow. Get used to commenting on the world with your pen. If a situation or story idea strikes you, write it down. You can work on it now, or come back to it later. Articulate an idea or desire you have about a poem you'd like to write: "I want to write a poem about the many different sizes and shapes of snowflakes."

    As you carry your smaller notebook with you, take down snippets and flashes of ideas as they come to you. Interesting things people say to, or around, you are also fair game. You may hear a line in your head that sounds like the start of a poem. Write it down. A situation you observe may touch off the idea for a short story. You will find that you actually receive brief flashes of inspiration throughout the day, and not just when you are sitting down to write. Capture them as they come, and work on them later.

    Remember that your inner critic should be asked to sit quietly while you work with your journal. Don't let your critic judge these germs of ideas you will come up with. Honor each idea you have by writing it down. You ultimately might not use most of what you write in a journal, but by writing your ideas and observations, you honor your own creativity, and your subconscious mind will reward you with more ideas. You will soon find that you have more ideas to write than you have time to write them.

    Writer's Ear
    Journaling, and especially carrying your notebook with you, will help you develop writer's ear. As you note down moments, images, situations on the page, you will begin to perceive the world more fully. Instead of dwelling on your own problems as you walk down the street, your attention will be focused outward. You will see the world around you more crisply and more fully than the average person sees it. You will begin to observe events around you in terms of how you can use them in your work. It is a writer's job to hold a mirror up and show readers their own world, and their own faces. As you prepare to do this job you will find your eyes opening to the world around you. You will experience life more deliberately, more fully than you did before. It is a miraculous way to live, and it is the best way to fuel your creativity.


    Along with keeping a journal, another important practice for the beginning creative writer is a technique called freewriting. The rules are simple. You make a commitment to sit and write for a specified period of time, or a specified number of pages. Once you begin, you keep writing nonstop until you've reached your goal. Don't pause to think. Keep your pen moving. Don't stop to cross out words or rewrite. Put punctuation in if you like, but leave it out if you like. Don't worry about spelling. Focus on keeping the pen in motion. If you don't have the foggiest idea what to write, write anything. Write, "I don't know what to write I don't know what to write I don't know what to write," over and over if you can't think of anything else. Eventually your mind will get tired of this and suggest an alternate topic for you. Don't let your inner critic judge what you're doing. This writing doesn't have to make sense. One sentence does not need to relate to the one before or after it. Your goal is simply to write continuously. Get used to the idea that you can produce words on a page without the slightest provocation. Learn that you can write even when you think you don't have a thing to say. Like the runner on a long jog, you are conditioning your muscles. The ability to lay down a trail of words, even if they are nonsensical, primes your writing muscles for the time when you will have something to say.

    Exercise: Try this variation of freewriting. Find a random noun in the dictionary, or in any other book you choose, by pointing your finger at a place on the page and picking the closest noun you find. Turn to a different page and pick a random adjective the same way. Put the two together, and you'll probably have an unlikely combination, like "vociferous flowers" or "emerging steam." Write this word combination at the top of your page and use it as a jump-off for your writing session. Explore this combination. If it makes little or no sense, explore alternate worlds in which it could make sense. What if flowers were vociferous? What would they all be saying? Imagine walking through a meadow when all of the flowers were talking. Again, don't worry about being interesting or making sense. Let your mind open up, and notice the way your brain can try to connect things that, on the surface, seem completely unrelated.

    If you find yourself wandering from your topic, don't worry. Maybe the word combination holds little interest for you, after all. If you come up with something else to write about, fine. If you find yourself at a loss for words again, though, write your word combination again and see if it now gives you any ideas.

    Freewriting and journaling should feel like playtime for you. All creative writing should feel like playtime, even though it is often referred to as "work." Feel free to play with words and ideas. Write about silly ideas that strike your fancy. Explore the wonders of your mind by observing the words that come through your hands. Tell your friends and family you are "working," so they'll leave you alone, but realize that, in truth, the best and most creative writers are actually playing with ideas, images, words. A sense of fun will keep you coming back to your writing more effectively, and with more fulfillment, than a sense of duty or a strong work ethic.

    Exercise: After you have worked with freewriting for a week or two, read over your writing. Look for a line you've written that stands out from the others. A statement you've made that interests you, or a description of a place you'd like to learn more about. You may not remember writing this line and feel surprised that it came out of your head. All the better. Write it at the top of a page, and do a new freewriting session with this as your trigger. Explore this line or image. If it has energy for you, perhaps there is more beneath the surface, just waiting for you to draw it out.

    As you write, and begin to look over the things you have written, you may begin to find bits of inspiration here and there. Among all the lines of, "I don't know what to write I don't know what to write," you may spot a line or two, or even a paragraph, that does seem inspired to you. You may like the way you said something and want to explore that thing further. You will come to see that inspiration does not always come before you write. Very often, it comes while you are writing, and you may not even notice your flash of inspiration until you read it over later.
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