Four Freewriting Tools Every Novelist Should Use – Part 1

by Bill Henderson

Any novelist, any fiction writer, lives under the constant threat of being shut down by one form or another of writer’s block. It’s just a given of the trade.

New writers encounter it as an existential crisis. It’s frightening, because it seems to be a cosmic message that we’ve made a huge mistake. We thought we had what it takes, but suddenly, it seems, we don’t. Experienced writers have looked into the eye of the beast and realized it’s just that, a beast, and like any beast, can be successfully grappled with and defeated.

In my opinion, anyone can blow writers block out of the water by knowing when and how to use several variations of freewriting. I call them tools because they do what good tools are supposed to do: they make it easier, and in some cases possible, for anyone to build, repair, and speed their work.

Does “anyone” overstate the case? No, I mean it literally. Anyone can enrich writing they’ve already done that’s flat and uninspired. Anyone can break the ice when writer’s block freezes them in their tracks. Anyone can find new life, new richness, new authenticity in moribund material, reimagine a character that’s not coming to life, refocus a plot that seems to have lost its way, revive a bright idea that was once so promising, but now written off for dead.

So here are the the first 2 of the 4 major freewriting tools I’ve found most useful over the years. Whatever your style, whatever your genre, each one can open up a pipeline to the best writing source you have, the matrix of your creativity. You should never ever be without them:

10 Minute Clear-Out
This is a preparation tool. Set your timer for 10 minutes and sit in front of your computer. (If you don’t use a computer, translate to taste.) Close your eyes and focus your awareness on what’s happening inside your mind. Pay close attention. Observe as though you were a third person. Don’t try to stop it, just bear witness. “But it’s so distracting!” Exactly. Your everyday mind is a seething mix of replayed conversations, noisy fretting about this and that, worries about the future, about what you “should have done,” etc. There’s so much random noise it’s no surprise you feel there’s no room for the world of your story to enter and take hold.

True and normal. So don’t try to stop it, Just watch it objectively it for a minute or two, as though you were following the thought flow of someone else.

After a few minutes, let that objective observer give way to a elemental, even “mindless” action: pick a syllable–any syllable will do:  “One… One… One…” or “Now… Now… Now.” The chatter in your mind will continue, but no matter. Let it go. Just keep concentrating on your syllable.

With a minute or so left on the timer, close your eyes and imagine a vast, dark theater curtain hanging right in front of you. Imagine that curtain opening to reveal the world of your story. If your story is set in New York, see any New York street. If it’s a story of France in the Middle Ages, see a cathedral, a royal banquet hall, whatever. Weak visualizers, don’t despair–modify to your own mental strengths. If your creative imagination hears better than sees, hear the soundtracks of these locations as if listening to a movie soundtrack.

When your timer goes off, it’s time to write. And you’ll be surprised how ready you are.

[By the way, are you wondering why I lead off with a "freewriting" tool that involves no writing at alll? It's because for freewriting to work, your mind should be receptive, relaxed, empty, and open, exactly what this tool is designed to achieve.]

Opening Freewrite
Writing time. But what to write? Reset your clock for 5 minutes, 10, 15–your choice. Start a freewrite. As always, the only rule is DO NOT PAUSE. Keep writing, even if, at any point, you can’t think what to write next. Remember: freewriting IS thinking. Keep writing and new thoughts will appear in the flow. Opening Freewrites can be general–about whatever comes into your mind–or targeted–focused on a particular question or concern that you’ve predetermined: a character whose motives aren’t clear to you, a point in your plot where clarity turns to fuzziness and you aren’t clear what should happen next and why. When the timer goes off, turn your attention to your day’s work and get started. With luck you’ll be encouraged by the new material you’ve turned up.

Part 2 – Freewriting tools 3 and 4
They’re especially suited for breaking creative ice-jams through discovery of dynamic new information.

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