You need to write something. You feel the impending deadline. It’s weighing on you.
Maybe you aren’t clear on what to write.
This might be an essay, a blog post, or a chapter in a nonfiction book.
A mostly blank file is sitting there staring at you.
You have a basic idea what you need to write about. But there may be some gaps in your understanding about your topic. Something is missing. Maybe you need to do some research, but you don’t know where to start. You don’t know what you don’t know.
You don’t need to be an authority on the topic. You can write as you are, from where you are. You can write whether you are an expert, a newbie, or even if you don’t have much interest in what you need to write about.
- You aren’t clear what you want to write about
- You feel overwhelmed by it
- You may need to do research
If you’re feeling stuck, try this freewriting strategy to get you started.
But hey, you might say. Really, freewriting? This isn’t some flowery tangle of self expression I have to write — it’s a research paper or a chapter of a very serious nonfiction book.
You’re aware that freewriting means you
- write without stopping
- write without judging yourself or what you write
- write without knowing where you are going
Put in positive terms, that means you
- write continuously
- write to engage the flow, perceiving, paying attention, active in the present moment
- write to continually discover
Let’s look at how freewriting can be helpful in this case.
How to use freewriting to kick-start you through a difficult writing project or assignment
- let your cat write it (just checking to see if you’re paying attention)
- write what Peter Elbow calls the “instant version” of it
Essentially, the instant version is the one you decide to write right now, as you are, based on wherever you happen to be and whatever you happen to know right now. Write for fifteen minutes. No stopping for quotes or research, no stopping to plod and ponder. Just proceed forward, doing a really bad job of writing what you are supposed to write.
You can leave gaps where there may be a section that you truly blank out on. That’s fine — just hit return and continue writing about the next point.
Maybe you feel hesitant to try this because the instant version sounds like it wouldn’t be any good.
When you actually write something, even if it’s atrocious, more happens than might be apparent beforehand.
Even when drafting a really lousy instant version, you give yourself the gift of a working structure. As ramshackle or disagreeable as this instant version might be, the exercise gives you the ability to have a working draft in a matter of fifteen minutes.
If you don’t know, write whatever comes to you first.
The information you write might be incorrect. Let it be incorrect, even if you are writing about what you believe. It may be uncomfortable writing about an opinion as if it was your own, but flow with it and see what unfolds.
Maybe you will change your mind about what you believe halfway through, and that’s fine as well.
Even if you do change your mind, you may still be able to use the material as an example of an alternative point of view.
Even material that is completely useless can still prove to be the necessary bridge from one point to another. The lousiest random material, if you flow with it, can be the doorway through which you discover something really fantastic.
After fifteen minutes, you can continue if you’re on a roll, or read back through what you wrote.
You have two main options here: use this material in some form (by adding to it and filling in the missing bits) or discard it after reading through, noting what was slightly better and ignoring all the other garbage. If you discard the material, you can repeat the exercise, writing for fifteen minutes or so. This time, you will be able to flow with a bit more confidence about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what order feels good.