Just Write

Freewrites: Opening Doors to Discoveries

Notes from Marlene Cullen’s talk about freewrites. Scroll down for links about how to use freewrites and how to write about difficult subjects without adding trauma.

I gave a talk about freewrites at the Redwood Branch of the California Writers Club. I’m sharing my notes so you, too, can enjoy the freewrite method of writing.

I love freewrites because they are so . . . freeing. Freewrites can open doors to discoveries.

I was thrilled to discover freewrites, unlike short story and novel writing, this was something I could do. I hope these tips help make your freewrites fun and successful in inspiring your writing. 

What is a freewrite?
A freewrite is writing spontaneously with no thinking. Just putting down word after word, with no worries about spelling, punctuation, how it will sound, and no worries about the final product.

Sometimes when you are engrossed in your writing project and the writing is coming easily . . . that’s like a freewrite. The difference is that, with a freewrite, there is no end goal in mind.

With a freewrite, you can write about what happened to you, what happened to someone, else, or you can write fiction, poetry, whatever comes up during a freewrite is fine. . . as long as you keep writing and don’t stop to think. Thinking is bringing the editor in and this isn’t the time for editing nor censoring.

Sometimes, with a freewrite, it’s the process, not the product.  

Freewrites can be used to understand and work out things that are puzzling or disturbing or annoying. Sometimes it helps to write about something in order to understand it.

One way to start a freewrite is to use prompt: A word, a line from a book or a line from poetry and write from there. You can also use a visual item as a prompt.

One of the things I like about freewrites is the freedom to write whatever you want about any topic. Ideally, with no worries about what your writing sounds like . . . no worries about the outcome.

If you don’t want anyone to read what you’ve written, you can destroy your writing. Or you can save it in a secret place. But you have to remember where that secret place is!

Another thing I like is that since freewrites are very rough first drafts, it doesn’t matter what the writing is like . . . it can be fragments, or unrefined ideas, or mental doodling set in writing.

The challenge of freewrites is getting out of the way of yourself.

During a freewrite, let your writing flow with no judging.

What about that inner critic that we all have?

When you are in the zone . . . in the groove of writing . . . there is no space for the inner critic to hang out.

With freewriting, it’s just you and your creative mind playing with words.

Let go of your worries about your writing.

If you can talk . . . if you can think . . . you can do a freewrite.

One way you can use freewrites is to get past roadblocks in your writing . . . whether fiction or non-fiction.

If you are having a problem transitioning from one scene to another, or you are having trouble getting a character from Point A to Point B, do a freewrite.

As you begin a freewrite, relax your mind . . . have no expectations about the outcome. This is play time.

It’s the “What if?” game. What if this happens or that happens? What if your character says or does this or that? Play around with the possibilities.

You don’t have to use any of your freewrites in your final scene. But you may generate ideas that you can use. Be open to the possibilities.

How to be successful with freewrites.

Let go of your ideas about what perfect writing means.  Give yourself permission to be open to whatever comes up during a freewrite.

You can think of freewrites as making discoveries.

Take deep breaths as you begin and then relax into your breathing and let the writing happen.

When you are writing in this free style, you are not writing for an audience. You are giving yourself the gift of writing for yourself.

During a freewrite, immerse yourself in your writing. Write at a place and a time where you won’t be interrupted.

Let go of your worries and just write.

Write to satisfy your desire to go to a meaningful place in your writing. You get to decide what that means.

During a freewrite you can go deep into the recesses of your mind and really write.

 It’s okay to start with gut level feelings or to get to gut level feelings. It’s okay to go for the jugular as Natalie Goldberg says

As you write, you might notice discomfort, especially if you are writing about an uncomfortable experience or about a difficult memory.

When that happens, gently put your hand where you feel the discomfort. If you can’t put your hand there, put your thoughts there . . . your loving, caring, patient thoughts.

When you are feeling uncomfortable, you can either stop writing and come back to it later. Or, work through it.

To work through it, have a focal point, something you can look at that will remind you to breathe deeply.

If you know you are going to write about a difficult subject, have a plan before you start writing.

When the writing gets tough: Look out a window. Walk around. Look outside. Take a sip of water.

When writing about a difficult subject, let the tears come, let your stomach tie up in knots. It’s okay to write the story that is challenging.

Get through the barriers to go to a deeper level.       

See your story and tell it.

This is a lot of information. Let’s take a deep breath.

More ideas for successful freewrites:

When you are writing, if you run out of things to say, write down, “I remember. . .” and see where that takes you.

Or write, “What I really want to say . . .” and go from there.

Writing Prompt

Let’s try a type of freewrite now.

Get comfortable.

Relax into your chair.  Both feet flat on the floor.

Rotate your shoulders in a circle. Opposite direction.

Rotate your head in a circle. Opposite direction.

Bring your shoulders up to your ears. Let them down with a harrumph sound.

Escort your inner critic out the door. Shoo! Good-bye.

Give yourself permission to be open to whatever comes up.

Take a deep breath in. And let it out.

Go back in time to when you were 4 or 5 or 6 years old. See yourself at this age. Perhaps you can see a photo of yourself at this young age.

Now, we’re going to travel up in time, starting with a memory of when you were 4 or 5 or 6.

As we do this, pause when you feel energy. You might feel a flutter in your stomach. Or a tightening in your jaw. You might feel a constricted throat. Notice as you travel through your memories where you have a physical reaction. Stop there. Pause. Think about that time. If you want, you can put your hand on the place on your body where you feel this energy. If you can’t put your hand there, put your thoughts there.

Deep breath in. Let it out.

See yourself when you were twelve.

Another deep breath in. Release. Let go.

See yourself at 16 or 18.

Remember when you were a young adult, early twenties.  Mid-twenties.

Choose one of the memories you just thought about that brought a strong physical reaction. The reaction could be joy, pain, pleasure, or discomfort.

Choose one event, or experience, and think about what you were like before this event happened. Then the pivotal event happened and you weren’t the same after.

Drill down to the precise moment the pivotal event happened.  Look closely, like looking through a microscope or a telescope.

See the details of where you were, who was there. What happened?

Write about it now . . . Freely . . . with no thought of the outcome. No plan to ever share this writing. Just write.

When you are finished writing.

Breathe. Take a deep breath in. Release your breath. Shake out your hands. Stretch.

Take a moment to transition from writing to being back in the room.


What is a freewrite?  Why should you do it? How is it done?

Get Started. How to use writing prompts.

Don’t think. Don’t plan. Just write.   

Don’t think. Don’t plan. Just write.   

More about freewrites.

How to write without adding trauma.

Writing about difficult times.

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