Do you ever feel constrained by academic writing? I do. Sometimes I get caught up in obeying every grammar rule, making every paragraph transition effectively, and structuring my thoughts in a way that produces a coherent paper. Not to mention, most of the writing we do as college students comes with guidelines, deadlines, and the threat of a bad grade looming over our heads. That is why I think we could all benefit from free writing.
What is free writing, exactly? It’s pretty simple. You sit down (with a pen and paper or a computer, whichever you prefer) and write what you are thinking. You can start with a topic or nothing at all. You can write as much as you want, for as long as you want. And the best part is, you don’t have to pay attention to any formal rules of writing. Forget grammar, forget syntax, and forget spelling and punctuation. If you don’t have anything to say, simply write “I have nothing to say.” Also, don’t cross anything out. Resist the urge to go back and correct what you have written. Obviously what you produce may be messy, jumbled, and incoherent. That doesn’t matter. The process of putting your ideas on paper is what’s important, not the end result.
So why is free writing a useful strategy? Well, first of all, it’s a great stress reliever. Writing is a totally underrated form of venting, and has a lot fewer negative consequences than punching things or yelling at the top of your lungs. If you get really angry, you can always just scribble viciously on the page (or type angrily). But you don’t even need to be stressed out to free write. You could just write about how your day went or your thoughts at the moment. You may find that you really enjoy it.
But if writing about your feelings and frustrations isn’t for you, don’t worry. There are more practical applications. When you are brainstorming ideas for a formal paper or having writer’s block, free writing can be helpful. Once you have a prompt, read through it and write down whatever comes to your mind, in whatever order it comes to you. You aren’t going to get a perfect outline for your paper out of this. And not everything you free write will make it into your paper. But it can help you generate ideas that will help you once you begin the formal writing process. It’s much easier to let your ideas flow when you don’t have to worry about things like grammar, spelling, and word choice—which can slow you down.
Overall, free writing can be a valuable tool. Although I was skeptical at first, I have found that free writing really can really be helpful in generating ideas for a paper. It was also relieving and empowering to write something that was truly mine without worrying about the (many) rules of academic writing. So I urge you to give it a try; you might be surprised at how much you learn.