Free writing is an important part of the writing process.
Being able to write freely, and without judgement, is something that is not often allowed for within the school curriculum. And I’m not having a go at teachers, or the system, about this. I understand how it’s important to teach children how to write, particularly essays, and that this requires structure, even a specific formula. I understand that this is important and essential, for students sitting GCSE exams and beyond.
My eldest daughter is doing her GCSEs at the moment and she struggled in the English exam because of the pressure of the timed situation. Her English teacher is full of praise for her work and says she writes beautifully and articulately, however, she is aware how my daughter is also a perfectionist who will take her time with everything she writes, in order to make it the best it can be.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with that-we both agreed-when it comes to an exam, this can be more of an issue, because in this situation, you don’t have the luxury of time. Being able to get on and write is a skill in itself and one that requires confidence.
At my creative writing group, I work with a group of older children (the Young Writers) and we often do timed writing.
When I first suggested this idea, they all looked at me, horrified. I was to give them a starting line prompt and then set the timer for five minutes, to see what they could come up with. They are so used to carefully and meticulously creating a piece of written work that they could not fathom the idea of putting pen to paper and just going for it, in what seemed such a haphazard and random way.
Why are you afraid to write? Is it because you think you’ll write badly?
Nine times out of ten, the answer to this is a resounding yes. It’s not possible that you could write something good in such a short space of time and without planning it, surely?
You would be surprised, as my students soon were, at what you can come up with when you are challenged in this way. This form of free writing, in a timed situation, gets the creative juices flowing and drives inspiration in a way that is just not possible by sitting and staring at a blank page for hours on end.
Some of the things my Young Writers have come up with when doing this exercise have been incredible and they have even surprised themselves. So much so, they now ask if we can do this exercise most weeks.
Not only does this form of free writing promote creativity, it builds confidence. It’s a trust thing-learning to believe in yourself and your inherent abilities as a writer.
It’s the same with anything, the more you practice, the better at it you become.
When you write this way, you don’t have time to think about grammar, as it’s all about the content. Sometimes you need to get past this barrier in order to free up the creativity-it’s more about the process than the outcome at this moment. At the same time, because it’s writing practice, the more you do it, the better at writing you will become-the grammar takes care of itself.
At school, students have to write in a very prescriptive way for a reason, as already discussed. Free writing should not be overlooked though, as it is a way of taking your thoughts, ordering them and writing them down in a cohesive and coherent format. This is a skill that can be transferred to any subject and/or area of life. As for the timed free writing, this can only help, not hinder, when it comes to exams and overcoming the fear that you won’t be able to write as well due to the nature of the timed conditions.
Do you enjoy free writing and employ this in your lives at all?