Thursday, 27 August 2009

How much of a help is Free Writing?

Many writing books recommend free writing or “morning pages” for beginning writers. But how useful is it? In my opinion, not very. I have been keeping journals for years, and I have never had an issue with writing itself. I can write pages and pages, but does that make me capable of producing quality fiction? I don’t think so. It may help of course by improving one’s language ability or prose, but even then, not by much because free writing by its vey nature is supposed to be editing free. I am not against free writing. In fact, I think it could be very useful to get the creative juices flowing. But I don’t think it’s fair to tell writers that if you write 5 pages every morning, you have potential to become a published writer, or that it might improve your craft. One of the most important things towards becoming a published writer is ability to finish a project, until it’s the best you can do. Free writing, with its assortment of ideas, doesn’t teach that. In couple of writing workshops I attended, I met people who were following books like “Artist’s Way” and writing their morning pages, but nothing else, and they did believe they were making progress towards becoming a writer. I disagree. What do you think?


  1. I think the purpose of free writing (from what I've heard) is simply to get the mind and fingers started when they may not necessarily want to, or on a schedule. As far as training your mind to write on a certain time schedule, I suppose it probably has some merit (much like training yourself to do the dishes at a certain time, or make the bed).

    That said, I'm not much of a free-writer. I've tried it a few times, and usually can't think of anything to write. I guess I just sort of assumed it was an exercise in writing consistently, and that most writers eventually "grew out of it". But to each their own, of course.

  2. I agree with you. Although free writing can be handy to get the creative juices flowing, as you said, it doesn't actually teach someone the key elements to writing. And yes, to a degree some people need to be taught basics. In free writing you're not supposed to care about the little things... so you're not really learning anything. You skip over the mistakes because thats not the point of the exercise, when in reality, you can't skip over the mistakes.

    I also know people who ONLY free write because they think it will help them improve. But then the moment you take them out of free writing and get them writing a story, it flops because the writing as a whole is terrible. Then they lose confidence and stop writing. They could be great writers that just need to work on it. I think the only way to do that is to have a story and learn as you go. You can read a million "how to write" books but if you don't actually write your own story, it's useless information. And wasted time.

  3. I do think that free writing can be good to help people get on a schedule. And in some cases, I know people who learned to develop their voice because of it, but they took it to the next step of evaluating what they'd written, trying to make it better.

  4. Jamie/Natalie/Tara,

    Yes, I do agree that it could help people be little more disciplined towards writing. But even then it depends on the person. For example, free writing for me is no more challenging than doodling, so there is no reason for procrastination. But actually writing a proper story, even a short story, is much harder work.

    In the instances where people did move on to complete projects once free-writing got them into the swing of things, then the benefits are obvious. It works as long as writers recognize that free writing is bit like learning the alphabet. Then, they have to put together those alphabets to make words and sentences for themselves.

  5. I think morning pages/journaling are very important. It may not turn you into a great writer, but it definitely gets rid of the junk in your life so you can write. I use it as a starter.

    Since this doesn't work for you, perhaps you might concentrate on timed writings which I also use - like blog entries. This is excellent writing practice. Look around the room where you're writing and choose an object or anything - like the sunbeam on the carpet. Title of your five minute writing is now "Sunbeam on the Carpet." You can write poetry, fiction, essay, whatever form you choose. But you can't pick up your pen. You just write. If stuck, rewrite the last sentence again. You'll be surprised how it flows once you get started.

    Most may be complete junk, but sometimes it is not and you have the little nugget. And the writing practice is invaluable. Rambling on, here. Sorry.

  6. Interesting! I had a professor who swore by morning pages, but it was for poetry poetry inspiration, not novel writing, really. I think I found some good ideas by doing it, but I never felt that I was moving more towards my goal of being published. I agree with you - free writing can be really helpful in certain instances, and I can understand that it's something that might help a lot of writers, but I don't think it will ever get you published. :)

  7. Midlife,
    I personally have nothing against morning pages. I just don't think they are useful in themselves to become a published writer. They could serve as an inspiration, but free writing doesn't finish projects.

    Lady Glam,
    Totally agree with yours.