Writing Against the Clock: How Long Should Your Freewriting Session Last?

Freewriting is a writing technique in which you write without stopping for a given duration. How long you choose to write for can really impact the quality of freewrite you end up with.

Let’s look at a few example durations.

How long should you write?

5 minutes: the quickie, the mind dump

The five minute session is great to blast out the cobwebs. It’s an awesome thing to dive into when you just wake up or if you are wanting to make a change of direction with something.

  • It’s great when you are feeling blah or stuck
  • It’s satisfying.
  • You can devote yourself fully to the freewrite knowing that you can shift to something else after your five minutes is up
  • Planning to do just a five minute session is a great way of convincing yourself to actually stay for a ten minute session

For longer freewrites, you can just keep track of time by looking at a clock. But for a short one, it’s great to actually set a countdown timer.

A five minute freewrite is ideal for:

  • getting energized
  • shifting gears into the creative mode
  • exploring ideas
  • making a mind dump – lose ten pounds of cloudy ideas in five minutes and walk away more clearheaded

10 minutes: the sketch, the jot

This duration of freewrite is ideal for

  • making a sketch of a chapter or article
  • a working outline
  • exploring mapping your project

20 minutes: the workman’s sprint

This is where most freewriters spend their time, in sessions about this long. It is surprisingly productive for as short as it is. It’s a friggin awesome way to live. In bouts of productivity and focus, with plenty of time afterward to do something else. No more half-measures. No more lukewarm writing or writing sessions.

From the outside, twenty minutes may not seem like much time to get something done. Not all time slices are equal. Yet, the amount of depth you can reach in twenty minutes can be staggering. When you really commit yourself, a twenty minute freewrite can pivot your whole week. Click To Tweet

This can be enough time to draft a shorter piece. At one letter per second, a very manageable pace, that would yield you 1200 words. It’s very likely that you can reach a much higher word count in the same amount of time. But since not all of the words you generate will be used from your freewrite, that is a very respectable and reachable goal for that amount of time.

Not bad, right?

2 hours: the hardcore, the productivity blast

A solid two hour freewriting session can really make schtuff happen. There are a few options for how you might want to look at this and split up your time.

  • One solid freewrite
  • 1 hour freewrite, 1 hour revision/rewriting
  • 10 minute sketch, 1 hour freewrite, 15 minute break, 35 minute revision

Two solid hours nonstop can be great, depending on what you are working on. Some projects this can work best with would be long-term planning, life vision and goal writing sessions where you are spiraling outward from a central theme. Two hours gives you time to see things from all sorts of angles and come up with a good amount of workable ideas and details.

It can also really be useful for longer works such as novels or for the early phases of a new project. Spending some focused time in this way can give you clarity and depth that will continue to resonate in the days and months ahead.

If you choose to split your two-hour freewriting session into halves, try spending the first half entirely in the creative mode, generating new material, following your pen where it takes you. Then after the first hour is up, read back through your writing and note what seemed to be particularly working. You can either paste that material into a new document or just take note of it and spend your second hour rewriting the whole project from the beginning.

Another way of splitting up the time would be to take the first ten minutes to be used as a sketching phase. In this phase, develop a rough outline for what you intend to write. Then, for an hour, you fill in that outline. When your time is up, take a break then come back and read what you have with fresh eyes and revise or finish it.

More than two hours: the marathon of awesome

Oh yeah.

This is where it’s at.

The writing marathon.

When you claim this kind of time window and offer it to your writing practice, good things are bound to happen. The powers that be will take notice. You can expect small breakthroughs and large breakthroughs. Even if nothing happens, something happens because you have devoted yourself to your creative side. It takes guts and vision to really step out of the way and write nonstop for more than two hours.

It’s a good idea to take breaks if you are doing writing sessions longer than two hours. Not only is it good for your body, it gives you a refreshing change of pace and a chance to recharge.

I like to step outside, stretch, go for a walk, do some deep breathing, and enjoy the silence. No thoughts, no words.

Make your break as full-on as your freewriting marathon. Don’t think about your project at all. Indulge in the sensation of the moment. Move and breathe and even work up a sweat. Take a quick shower. Reboot. Rest your eyes and hands. Work your legs, stretch your back. Twist. Have a piece of fruit or a smoothie.

After a 15 minute break, you just might feel ready for another two or three hour stint.

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