Free Writing

Throughout Writing 12, we'll ask you to use a practice called free writing, or timed writing.

Operating from the following simple rules, you'll write for a set amount of time (anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes). Writing teachers have used these rules for a long time — from Dorathea Brand in the 1930s in her book, Becoming a Writer, to Natalie Goldberg in her 1986 book Writing Down the Bones, to Lynda Barry's 2008 book, What It Is.

  1. Don't worry about spelling or grammar.
  2. Don't go back and correct anything or reread what you have written.
  3. Write as quickly as you can — keep your hand moving.
  4. If you run out of ideas write, "I've run out of ideas," or start describing your surroundings, until the next thought comes into your head.

Sometimes we'll give you a topic to write on, and other times you'll begin writing without knowing what you'll be writing about. Dorathea Brand said that this practice is about warming up your writing muscles, which involves your hand your arm (hands and arms if you're typing) — and your brain.

Julia Cameron prescribed "morning pages" in her popular book The Artist's Way. The practice of using free writing first thing in the morning to capture creative thoughts and empty the brain of day-to-day concerns before creative work. Many people — writers and artists — use the practice to get into a state of "flow."


Sometimes, we'll be really sticky about it and ask you to write by hand*, even if you normally use a computer. Why is that?

As Lifehacker explained:

"Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brian called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you're actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront."

If you're not convinced, try out a few of the free writing activities by hand, and see if you notice a difference in how you write, and what you write about.

*If you have a disability such as dysgraphia that makes handwriting painful for you, or a learning disability that would mean your writing is slowed down significantly by switching to handwriting, then by all means use your normal process for these exercises.