One of the best lessons I ever learned as a writer and a teacher was found in a slim volume entitled Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow (Oxford University Press). One chapter is devoted to a simple strategy—freewriting—that is amazingly effective for all ages and levels, from elementary students to published authors. Here’s how it works:
* Freewriting means to write down what comes into your head, without stopping, editing, or censoring. Just keep the pen or computer keys moving.
* Proves remarkably freeing. Instead of sitting and waiting for ideas/the right words to strike, freewriting actively starts the thinking/muscle-moving process—and words follow. Random words often lead to greater focus and soon you’re engaged in the actual writing.
* Write about and write through worries or writer’s blocks. Begin by writing about these worries and fears. This clears them from your mind and gets you into the flow/energy of writing, which often soon leads to the writing you had hoped to be doing.
* Structure your freewriting. You can add structure to your freewriting by focusing, at the beginning, on a particular topic (an essay you have to write, a character you wish to explore) and let it guide your opening. You may find the writing shifting and/or new ideas emerging as you write. That’s okay. Just keep the pen/computer keys moving.
* Recognize you can go back and revise. Don’t try to make this perfect (that’s counterproductive). You may find nuggets and shape as you write—or after putting the freewriting away for a few hours or days.
* Maximizes use of limited time to write. Just bring your pen and paper with you and take advantage of the five minutes here and 10 minutes there as you wait in doctor’s offices, in carpool lines, for violin lessons or sports practice (whether you’re a kid or an adult). You’ll be surprised at how much you can actually write by harnessing that time.
* Leads to freer writing. Try scheduling 10-minute freewriting sessions for yourself or your students on a regular basis. See what happens over time. Often there’s an increase in creativity and pleasure and a greater looseness/flow to the writing. A comment I’ve heard from kids and adults alike: “This is fun!”
Writing with Power is full of other helpful strategies. Try them all and see which one you prefer.