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Overcoming Writer’s Block: Freewriting

September 2nd, 2007

Like anyone who is in the business of creating content for a living, we bloggers sometimes have to deal with the phenomenon of writer’s block. This article by Jeff Johnston explores some of the common causes of this condition and describes a technique called freewriting that can be used to overcome it.

Writer’s block is the bane of any writer. Most of us, if not all of us have experienced it at one point or another in our writing career. For those of you who don’t know what it is, writer’s block is a condition that occurs when a writer sits down to write something and cannot get anything to appear on the page. It is a mental block that seems to cease all creative thought. There are many causes of writer’s block:

• No interest in the subject matter: it is hard to fix this problem. If you have no interest in the subject, you might be better off just forgetting the project altogether.
• Not enough knowledge of the subject matter: if you really don’t know your subject, you will need to research it.
• Outside distractions: these can be anything from fatigue to other family members, or pretty much anything. Make sure that you are working in a distraction free environment. This is not to say that you can’t have music on; if music helps you, then it is not a distraction.
• Idea needs development: if your idea is not fully developed you may need to do some work in order to get it to a point where you can write about it. Do an outline, work on character sketches, develop the idea and then work on the actual project.

These are some of the most common causes of writer’s block, but sometimes there is no concrete cause; you just find yourself unable to write anything. The bad news is there is no cure that is 100% effective, but you can take measures to avoid it, and there are exercises you can do in order to free up your creative juices. If you want to avoid writer’s block you should make sure that you write each and every day. It doesn’t matter how much you write- a sentence, a paragraph, or even a chapter, just as long as you write something. It is also a good idea to work on a couple of different projects at the same time. If you find yourself stuck on one project, put it aside and work on the other one.

One of the best exercises for breaking out of writer’s block is freewriting. Freewriting is an exercise where you sit down and write whatever comes to mind. It is unlikely that you will use anything you wrote during your freewriting exercise, but I myself have found the beginnings of a few short stories in the muddled mess of a freewriting exercise. There are several different ways to go about freewriting, one is to just use a time limit and write whatever comes to mind. A second method is to use prompts. A prompt can be a sentence, a word, or even just a passage from your favorite book or article that you can begin typing word for word until you think of something that would improve or change the piece. Afterward, you can simply go with what you were writing and ignore the original. Prompts can be collected with a random word generator, or you can get them from another source, but you should not try to think of prompts first because it defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Freewriting Exercise Methods

Method #1

1. Sit down in your distraction free environment.
2. Gather your pen and paper, or open up your word processing program.
3. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes.
4. Write; do not worry about what you are writing, just write anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, type “I can’t think of anything to write” over and over until something pops up in your mind.
5. When your time is up stop writing and look at what you wrote. Chances are at least 90% of it will be unusable, but you may find ideas in your ramblings that you can use in your writings.

Method #2

1. Sit down in your distraction free environment.
2. Gather your pen and paper, or open up your word processing program.
3. Have your prompt at hand.
4. Write; keep your prompt in mind, let it guide you, but if you cannot think of anything using the prompt you picked within a few seconds move on to a different one.
5. When your time is up stop writing and look at what you wrote. Chances are at least 90% of it will be unusable, but you may find ideas in you ramblings that you can use in your writings.

The real trick to freewriting with either method is to set a time limit; I have found that twenty minutes is just about perfect. Do not pause for any reason. The worst thing you can do in freewriting is hit the backspace or delete key. Remember that freewriting is not meant to help you write a masterpiece but to free your mind so that you can create your masterpiece. Personally I have had more success with prompted freewriting, but it is sometimes still difficult to get started.

Sample Prompts

First Line Prompts:
Use one of the following sentences as the first line of your freewriting exercise.
1. He refused to believe that what John said was possible.
2. “It can’t be.”
3. It was going to be a long day.
4. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball.
5. Well, the day wasn’t wasted.
6. “It’s like, you know.”
7. “My gosh, that was much too close.”

Random Word Prompts:
Use as many of the words from any one of the prompts as possible in your freewriting exercise.

Prompt #1

• random
• force
• starship
• asteroid
• life
• dog

Prompt #2

• cat
• mouse
• gun
• once
• friendship
• unlikely

Prompt #3

• employment
• web
• mail
• verification
• driver
• install

Prompt #4

• time
• death
• menu
• dish
• setup
• delivered

Prompt #5

• hi
• hers
• other
• test
• reply
• automatic

Prompt #6

• nation
• first
• platinum
• control
• arrival
• broccoli

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