From my experience, free writing or practice writing as Natalie Goldberg refers to the exercise, is one of the best tools for writers of all levels. From the person looking to write their first piece, to the seasoned writer needing to break out of a seemingly endless block and reconnect with their lost or forgotten muse, timed prompt-writing never fails to jump start one’s creative flow, help discover your writer’s voice, or strengthen the one already in place.
What is this? How does it Work?
Practice writing is simple and can be done alone or with a group, though personally I find the group setting more fun. All you need to do is pick up a pen, set your timer, and write for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes or longer if you find your muse kicking in. Inner critics are never allowed and should be treated much like you would a vampire—without an invitation to enter they are not able to cross over the threshold.
The exercise of practice writing is all about loosening your thoughts and setting them free. It's about uninhibited flow and building self-confidence. It’s about blasting apart any blocks standing in your way; from fears of failure, inner critics, anxiety or any other forms of resistance you can dream up. If you have an idea that has been percolating in the back of your mind, but you can’t quite seem to get it out, try a few sessions of practice writing. It will help!
Willingness to take a risk is always to be encouraged. There is no need to worry about perfection or publication. Grammar and spelling are unimportant in this stage. Editing is not allowed.
The words created in this exercise are not ones you need to let anyone see or hear, unless you choose. The purpose of the exercise is to keep your hand and your pen moving across the page continuously until the timer goes off. Feel free to stray off-topic, letting your thoughts go where they will. Remember, practice writing is just that, practice. Good, bad, brilliant…it doesn’t matter. Keep writing.
If you can’t think of anything to write, write I can’t think of anything to write or the line of the prompt over and over until a line of thought crystalizes.
Is there a particular technique?
Apart from setting a timer and picking up your pen, the answer is no. You can choose a topic if you want to have some structure, or expand on a particular subject that has been on your mind. You can write from your own life or from a character in a story you are working or thinking about working on. I’ve often found when I don’t know what direction to take a character in, writing from their point of view helps.
The key to a successful practice writing session is to get out of your head. Do not over-think, just pick up the pen and write. Do not stop and reread what you have written until the timer goes off. The point is to get the words flowing out of your brain and onto the paper. If you stop to worry over whether what you’ve written is right, then a block will be thrown up.
Practice writing is the ultimate block busting tool with only one rule... write!