Spontaneous writing, free writing, and writing blocks.

Blow man, blow!

Jack Kerouac championed spontaneous prose writing, and legends tell of him putting a roll of paper in his typewriter which he then typed on for countless hours uninterrupted  to write the Beat literature classic, On the Road. His prescription for writing welcomes an uninhibited, free-flowing, unedited, disgorging of the psyche that hopefully results in an authentic, energized, fresh expression.

Freewriting, as described by Peter Elbow, is the exercise of writing without pausing or censoring as one goes along. Elbow views freewriting as that part of the writing process that permits the writer to write without clear goals, expectations or the need to edit and correct. A similar concept to Kerouac’s technique, though he recommends using it only for 10-15 minutes, and is more open to the role of editing a piece than Kerouac was.

In her book  The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends a practice of writing three pages of free, spontaneous writing every morning. She describes the personal benefits of such a practice as well as its usefulness for one’s art.

Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones repeatedly uses the advice “keep your hand moving.” This encourages developing a trust in your ability to write without first knowing exactly where it’s going, and discovering what you want to say through the process of writing.

What these writing approaches have in common is that when you practice them, your normal sense of self is not in command of the production of words. Your ego is neutralized, set aside, or ignored to allow the writing to emerge in a way that is not mediated by your usual judgments about what the words should be.

Many writing blocks are connected with behavioral and thinking habits that inhibit your ability to write freely or spontaneously. Your observing and judging ego is busy generating criticisms and evaluations, and this holds you back from generating new words and ideas. You become too self-conscious, uncertain, fearful, or caught up in resolving grammatical details that are best dealt with in final editing stages.

The approaches recommended by Kerouac, Elbow,Cameron and Goldberg each have a different spin and feel, and you could argue about which is the best, but why bother? The key objective emphasized by all four is to let yourself write and trust that something useful for your writing will emerge as a result.

These are especially good prescriptions for perfectionists, who tend scrutinize their early drafts with excessive intensity.

About David Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, teacher, consultant, workshop leader
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2 Responses to Spontaneous writing, free writing, and writing blocks.

  1. Kim Goldberg says:

    Very useful overview of freewriting/spontaneous writing. Thanks for posting!

  2. Jose Gallardo says:

    Very good information. The perfect advice I needed just before writing my first novel. Just flow…

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