On Freewriting

Freewriting is a writing exercise intended for people like me–people whose internal editor is so critical that they often struggle to get the words on the page, because they are too busy improving everything. The idea is that by setting the timer and making myself write constantly–regardless of grammar, spelling, word choice, and ability to remain on topic–that I can retrain myself to be less critical of my work. If I use freewrites in conjunction with an idea for a story, it will get enough bits and pieces out there that it will inspire me to keep going and finish the story, instead of spending hours trying to get the next sentence right. Believe me, I really do do that at times, even though I know better.

Image from user Mediamodifier on Pixabay

But freewrites were never intended as something to be shared with the world in their raw state. They are meant as a predraft. A predraft means that it is a pile of notes and bits and pieces that are rougher even than your first draft. If you are doing the exercise right, this predraft will be a real mess–filled with typos, spelling errors, lines saying you can’t think of anything, and extreme deviations from the topic you are writing about.

It isn’t anywhere near a story’s first draft, but if you are lucky, it will contain lots of bits and pieces that you can shape and mold into parts of your first draft. You’ll need to add a lot in between, but perhaps it builds you an image of your main character. Perhaps it provides some useful world-building background. Or maybe it gives you some essential plot points. Once in a while, if you are lucky, there are some gems of sentences that can make it all the way to the final draft with limited changes.

By going through your freewrite and finding all the “valuable” bits with story potential, you teach your internal editor that it is overly critical. It learns that by allowing you to write more “junk,” you really get more usable story pieces than it gets by limiting you. Unfortunately, many people miss this step, which is essential if you want to become a better writer.

Writing freewrites regularly without this step can help get your creative juices flowing, but won’t help you become a better writer. It can, in fact, have a negative impact, if you focus too much on freewriting and too little on honing your craft and improving your writing. Good writers need to find the right balance in their internal editors that enables them to get quality drafts to hone further with their peer review group or editor. A tendency to accept the result of freewrites as “good enough” can hinder this development.

Used properly, freewriting can be a very beneficial exercise. There are also lots of other types of writing exercises that can help with other writing challenges. It’s important not to get too focused on one type, but to work on all your weaknesses as a writer.

Writing Exercises on Steem and Other Blogging Platforms

I see a great benefit in sharing ideas for writing exercises with other writers on Steem and other blogging platforms. However, when it comes to posting the intermediate results of those exercises, there are several important points to keep in mind.

If posting to Steem, you need to remember that the Blockchain is permanent. Anything you post to the Steem blockchain (the force behind the steemit.com front-end that is most used) is saved for as long as humanity and the technology exists. If your goal is to become a good writer and to get routine income from your writing, at some point you will want to make the leap to the mainstream, be it with an agent or publisher or through a magazine or journal. You might be lucky that some of those will evaluate you only on the quality of the draft you submit along with the accompanying materials. With magazines or journals, that might work. But if you are going for an agent or a publisher, they will be looking at your marketing potential as well as the quality of the one piece they get to look at. And they will assume you will have done a heck of a lot of work getting that one piece ready for them, so they’ll be curious about what else you’ve written.

If you work your blog profile on any platform properly, it can act as a marketing advantage for you, by showing a number of people already reading your work that would be likely to be interested in your magnum opus. These people are going to assume that anything you publish on your blog, since blogging is a type of publishing, is something you consider “fit for public perusal.” If you’ve published your raw freewrites, these error-filled posts will be part of what you are judged by. It would be best if these publishers, agents, and editors found only work you really could be proud of.

Even if your intention is to self-publish, your readers may look you up. In today’s society, googling before buying is very common. Reading pieces filled with flaws might make them disinclined to purchase your book.

If you consider your blog a generic blog, as opposed to thinking of it as a future writing portfolio, you still need to think about your followers and what image you project to the world. Any top blogger will tell you how important it is to respect your followers and be careful what you put out. Too many sloppy and unedited posts can cost you followers and they may not be easy to win back.

I take great risks on my own blogs regularly, because I jump from topic to topic. I am very aware that posting photography can cost me readers who want fiction and writing articles. Posting fiction and writing articles can cost me followers who are only interested in my photography. When I get into dog articles and craft articles, it can cost me even more. It’s a risk I’ve decided to accept, because I am who I am. But it is important that everyone make these choices knowingly. In an ideal world, I’d have different accounts or sites for these different interests, but with my health problems, I just don’t have the energy for that right now. On this blog, I am going to hope my pickier readers will rely on category menus and tags to view the type of content that interests them most.

But I still worry about the quality of what I post to my blog. I have regretted some of my earlier color challenges on Steem, where I got carried away by the idea of building community and posted photography that wasn’t as good as I’d like to be remembered for. But I’ve learned from that. As for my writing, I always run it through my peer review group or ask a few trusted friends (trusted in that I know they’ll be honest with me when something sucks as opposed to just saying nice things) to look things over. And I have that overly-critical internal editor on my side also.

Freewriting, like other exercises, is part of your “homework” as a writer. It’s among the chores you do to help you on your way. Your teacher, if you have one, might need to see it. You might share it privately with a small peer review group who is helping you on your journey. But generally you don’t benefit from plastering your error-filled math or English homework all over the Internet where everyone can see it.

So I recommend you think twice about what type of material you post to the Internet and associate with your name, especially if you dream of being a published or respected author some day. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework. You should do the homework, grow as a writer, and share only the things you can really be proud of a few years down the road.

[An earlier revision of this article was previously posted to my Steem blog]

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