Free writing

Free writing is traditionally regarded as a prewriting technique practiced in academic environments, in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time with limited concern for rhetoric, conventions, and mechanics, sometimes working from a specific prompt provided by a teacher.[1] While free writing often produces raw, or even unusable material, it can help writers overcome writing blocks and build confidence by allowing them to practice text-production phases of the writing process without the fear of censure.[2][3] Some writers even use the technique to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing.

Unlike brainstorming, where ideas are listed or organized, a free-written paragraph is comparatively formless or unstructured.


Dorothea Brande was an early proponent of freewriting. In her book Becoming a Writer (1934), she advises readers to sit and write for 30 minutes every morning, as fast as they can.

Peter Elbow advanced freewriting in his book Writing Without Teachers (1973), and it has been popularized by Julia Cameron through her book The Artist's Way (1992).


The technique involves continuous writing, usually for a predetermined period of time (often from five to fifteen minutes). The writer writes with no regards to spelling, grammar and makes no corrections. If the writer reaches a point where they can't think of anything to write, it is presumed that they will write until they can't think of anything or repeat words, until they find another line of thought. The writer freely strays off topic, letting thoughts lead where they may. At times, a writer may also perform a focused freewrite, letting a chosen topic structure their thoughts. Expanding from this topic, the thoughts may stray to make connections and create more abstract views on the topic. This technique helps a writer explore a particular subject before putting ideas into a more basic context.

Freewriting is often done on a daily basis as a part of the writer's daily routine. Also, students in many writing courses are assigned to do such daily writing exercises.

The writing does not have to be done with pen and paper. A technique known as Freeblogging combines blogging with free-writing with the rules changed so that the writer does not stop typing for long periods of time. The end result may or may not be shared with the public.


Free writing is based on a presumption that, while everyone has something to say and the ability to say it, the mental wellspring may be blocked by apathy, self-criticism, resentment, anxiety about deadlines, fear of failure or censure, or other forms of resistance. The accepted rules of free-writing enable a writer to build up enough momentum to blast past blocks into uninhibited flow, the concept outlined by writing teachers such as Louise Dunlap, Peter Elbow, and Natalie Goldberg.[4]

Free-writing is all about loosening and limbering the thought process, not about a product or a performance for a student or a writer.[5][6]

Use in educationEdit

Often free-writing workshops focus on self-expression, and are sometimes even used in teaching elementary school children. There is no common consensus on the acceptance of this technique,[7][8][9] often referred as Natalie Goldberg's first four rules of writing:[10]

  • The writer gives themselves a time limit. Writing for one or ten or twenty minutes, and then stopping.
  • The writer should keep their hands moving until the time is up. They should not pause to stare into space or to read what they've written. They should write quickly but not in a hurry.
  • The writer should pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style. Nobody else needs to read what they've produced here. The correctness and quality of what is written do not matter; the act of writing does.
  • If the writer gets off the topic or runs out of ideas, they should keep writing anyway. If necessary, they can write nonsense or whatever comes into their head, or simply scribble: anything to keep the hand moving.
  • If the writer feels bored or uncomfortable as they're writing, they should ask themselves what's bothering then and write about that.
  • When the time is up, the writer should look over what they've written, and mark passages that contain ideas or phrases that might be worth keeping or elaborating on in a subsequent free-writing session.

Goldberg's rules appear to be based on those developed by Jack Kerouac, whom she cites several times. Kerouac developed 30 "rules" in his Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.[11] While Kerouac's "rules" are elliptical and even cryptic for beginning writers, they are more comprehensive than Goldberg's for those who have practiced prose writing for some time. Kerouac supplemented these with his Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,[12] and together they form the basis of his prose writing method, a form of narrative stream of consciousness. Kerouac himself cites the "trance writing" of William Butler Yeats as a precursor of his own practice.[12]

Goldberg's rules, which are infused with the study and practice of Zen Buddhism, make the process of free writing more accessible for a beginner and are perhaps less extreme than those of Kerouac, although they are still tinged with an element of mysticism.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Marshall, Sharon. (2009). A case for private freewriting in the classroom. In Vilardi, Teresa; Mary Change (Eds.), Writing-based teaching: Essential practices and enduring questions; Albany, NY: State University of New York Press (pp. 7–24).
  2. ^ Collins, Vicki Tolar. (2000). Freewriting in the middle: Self-help for college writers across the curriculum. In Smith, Jane Bowman; Kathleen Blake Yancey (eds.), Self-assessment and development in writing: A collaborative inquiry; Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press (pp. 105–124)
  3. ^ Song, Minjong. (1998). Experimental study of the effect of controlled vs. free writing and different feedback types on writing quality and writing apprehension of EFL college students. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 423 703.
  4. ^ Cole, A.L. (2001). "The Thesis Journey: Travelling with Charley". Brock Education Journal. 13 (1): 1–13. doi:10.26522/BROCKED.V13I1.23.
  5. ^ Robinson, L. (1967). "Guided writing and free writing". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Ross, J.; Robinson, Lois (1967). "Guided Writing and Free Writing: A Textbook in Composition for English as a Second Language". TESOL Quarterly. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 2. 1 (2): 58–60. doi:10.2307/3585756. JSTOR 3585756.
  7. ^ Klingman, A. (1985). "Free Writing: Evaluation of a Preventive Program with Elementary School Children". Journal of School Psychology. 23 (2): 167–75. doi:10.1016/0022-4405(85)90007-X. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  8. ^ Goldberg, N. (1986). Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Shambhala Publications. ISBN 9780877733751. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  9. ^ Goldberg, N. (1990). Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. Bantam Dell Pub Group.
  10. ^ Miller, M.M. "The Spice of Writing: Extracurricular Projects for Technical Writers". IPCC 92 Santa Fe. Crossing Frontiers. Conference Record. pp. 384–390. doi:10.1109/IPCC.1992.673061. ISBN 0-7803-0788-7.
  11. ^ "Kerouac on technique".
  12. ^ a b "Kerouac, Spontaneous Prose".

Further readingEdit