The single best writing technique to get you started (or re-started)


There is nothing more frustrating than scheduling writing time, carefully preparing your coffee or tea, finally sitting down at your computer or notebook, and then… staring. You start a sentence. “Bah, that sounds terrible.” You get a few sentences down, then you re-read them and think, “That made a lot more sense in my head.” And then you stare, hoping that the right words will just come to you.

Maybe you don’t need more time to write (or more time to stare at the screen, because that’s what you end up doing). You need a writing technique that’ll get you started and help you build some writing momentum.

The single best writing technique I use with myself and clients: free-writing.

I thought I knew what free-writing was. I remember, during a creative writing class back in college, sitting around a square table in a seminar room. Our instructor asked us to do a free-writing exercise. He picked a prompt and told us to just “write whatever came to us” for 20 minutes.” So, I picked up my pen, wrote a bit, stared off into the distance, accidentally caught eyes with another student across the table, re-focused my attention on my paper, wrote a bit more, and continued on like that for the remained of the 20 minutes.

For years after that class, I felt that free-writing was somewhat of a waste of time. Why should I write about some random topic when I have plenty of perfect good topics to write about already?

Well, I didn’t know what free-writing was until I read Mark Levy’s book, Accidental Genius. I think free-writing, as it’s meant to be practiced, could turn my writing (and business!) world upside down.

Your brain has all the “raw material” you need for your writing.

Your mind contains more thoughts, information, associations, and ideas than you could ever actually sort through, even with the most concerted effort. When you dream, when you cross a familiar street intersection, when you smell bacon early in the morning, these situations bring about memories and thoughts completely without your intention. Levy would argue that many (perhaps most) of your thoughts cannot be accessed through sheer will.

What a conundrum for writers! We have so much “raw material” sitting around in our brain, jumping out at us during inopportune moments. Is there a way to tap into this mine of raw material at will?

Yes, free-writing pushes your brain to think longer, deeper, and more unconventionally than it normally would. Free-writing is essentially a form of forced creativity that actually works.

Here are the basic steps of free-writing:

1. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes, whatever increment you’re comfortable with.

2. Put your hands to pen and paper or keyboard, whichever your preference.

3. Pick a prompt, if you like, or just set your mind at ease.

4. Write as fast as reasonably possible; no pauses, no breaks, no breathers; for the full allotment of the time. Even if you have to type “umm” 10 times in a row or repeat the same word over and over until your brain can catch up with your hands, you just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. Don’t look back, don’t delete, don’t correct spelling mistakes. Press on until the timer rings.

Some helpful ground rules:

Try easy. Levy emphasizes that you have to set your mind at ease. No one will read your free-writing. Don’t expect words of genius to fall from your pen like rain from a cloud. Give yourself permission to simply write, with no expectations that this writing will ever produce anything useful.

Write fast and continuously. I would imagine that when you’re typically writing, you think at a much slower pace than normal. Try to push your brain to a normal rate of thought, which will probably feel approximately twice as fast as your typical “writing” rate. The goal here is not high quality words or even fully formed thoughts. The goal is to push past your internal editor. If you’re writing faster than your internal editor, then you’re beginning to tap into the “raw material” that’s waiting in the recesses of your mind.

Work against a limit Using a timer keeps you focused and reassures you that you only have to keep up this uncomfortably fast pace for a short period of time. You can do anything for 5, 10, or 20 minutes. Write for the full time allotment, and stop as soon as that timer rings. In order for your mind to get comfortable with free-writing, you have to strike the bargain with yourself: I’ll write for 20 minutes at an accelerated pace but only for 20 minutes.

If you get to the end of an idea, ask yourself a new question. Sometimes you’ll reach the end of a particular thought, hit the “.” button and not know which way to turn. This is free-writing, though. You’re not required to write in a linear, logical pattern. Pick a new question, a new thought, a new problem, and just keep writing.

The habit of free-writing could transform your writing life.

Certainly, you could use free-writing to get through a writer’s block, but if an exercise is beneficial, why not make it a habit? If free-writing really can help you make associations and generate ideas that otherwise might not bubble up to the surface of your mind, then perhaps you should practice free-writing on a regular basis.

Levy is actually a business consultant. Yes, he writes, but he primarily uses free-writing to help his clients work through problems in their sales, management, and organization problems. In the business world, this writing technique is becoming something of a phenomenon, known for helping individuals harness innovative business ideas.

This promise that free-writing could help in many different areas of life spurred me on to embrace free-writing as a habit. As often as I can get it in, I set my iPhone timer to 10, 15, or 20 minutes and allow myself to just free-write. I find that I’m generating ideas and working through problems related to everything from writing, business, and family. Sometimes I didn’t even recognize that there was a problem, but the free-writing helped me grasp both the problem and a variety of solutions.

What if free-writing every day could help you see all aspects of your own life, including your writing life, from an entirely new, innovative perspective? I’d say it’s worth a shot.

Try free-writing now.

Go ahead. You spent 5-10 minutes reading this article. How about 10 more minutes of free-writing? Instead of clicking over to Facebook or another blog, close all your windows and set a timer.

If you need a prompt here are some of my favorites:

“If I didn’t have to work, I’d…”

“I threw a stone and it landed…”

“I remember…”

“I’d love to learn about…”

“The simplest thing I could do to make a difference would be…”

“You know what I’d like to do again? …”

“I opened the door…”

Trust the process.

As with any writing technique, this is a tool to unleash more of your ideas, in your words, in your style. Ultimately, you have to trust the process. You have to trust that these free-writing sessions will bring new insights, new clarifications, and new ideas to light.

What do you do after free-writing? I’m releasing a Free Book-Writing Crash Course that walks you through every step you need to take in order to write and publish a book that brings credibility, growth, and sales to your business.

If you want to know more about how to write and self-publish a book that will strategically level-up your business and platform, you’re going to want in on the Free Book-Writing Crash Course.

The course will walk you through:

1. Three things you need to know about publishing and  why now is the perfect time for your book.

2. The quick-start method that will get you clear on your topic & motivated to write today.

3. How you can write a high-quality, publishable book that you are proud to sell in 90 days.

Want in?

The free crash course is only available for a few days, so sign up to get in: