Dasein, Red Elephant.

The Art of Free Writing

Random picture of smartypants Sartre doing what he does best: getting cancer and writing voluminous books. Don't it make you feel like writing?

I started reading some writing books/manuals in order to write better essays and came across Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, an interesting book with several coherent ideas on developing your own unimitable style of prose.

So, free writing. What is it?

Peter Elbow sayz:

“So much writing time and energy is spent not writing: wondering, worrying, crossing out, having second, third, and fourth thoughts. And it's easy to get stopped even in the middle of a piece. (This is why Hemingway made a rule for himself never to end one sheet and start a new one except in the middle of a sentence.) Frequent freewriting exercises help you learn simply to get on with it and not be held back by worries about whether these words are good words or the right words.”

How do you free-write?

  1. Set a time limit – say 10 minutes.
  2. Start writing whatever comes to mind for the duration of 10 minutes.
  3. Do not stop at any point untill the time is up.

Elbow has some specific advice for this:

“You may stay on one topic, you may flip repeatedly from one to another: it doesn't matter. Sometimes you will produce a good record of your stream of consciousness, but often you can't keep up. Speed is not the goal, though sometimes the process revs you up. If you can't think of anything to write, write about how that feels or repeat over and over "I have nothing to write" or "Nonsense" or "No." If you get stuck in the middle of a sentence or thought, just repeat the last word or phrase till something comes along. The only point is to keep writing.”

So what are the benefits of doing this?

  1. Regular freewriting helps make the writing process transparent
  2. Freewriting helps you learn to write when you don't feel like writing.
  3. Freewriting helps you to think of topics to write about and allows you to follow threads where they lead.
  4. Freewriting flat out improves your writing, yo.

Who knows, you might up with with sweet pure To the Lighthouse rhetoric.

Peter Elbow (How Quaint!) Bio

PETER ELBOW is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of several books, including Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching (Oxford UP, 1986), Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (Oxford UP, 1981) and his most recent, Being A Writer (McGraw-Hill, 2002).


Interview with Peter Elbow on Writing. Good Read! Link

An uber excellent resource on writing. Special focus on academic work/essays. Some links on the page are dead but most are alright. Includes links to the online writing centers for several American universities. Extremely bookmarkable. Link
More posts on writing to come.


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  1. * Paper Tiger Press says:

    Though this post was written a while ago I think it is interesting. Thanks for your time invested in it and sharing it with all of us.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 8 months ago

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