Freewriting a unique supplement to brainstorming
“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”
That is a quote from John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” I often think of that quote when I am doing a writing assignment and I just can’t think of anything to write or where to start.
And I think it’s safe to say that many other college students — especially those with majors that are writing-intensive — know that all too familiar feeling.
It can happen anywhere in the writing process: before you start writing, any time in the middle and even right before you finish your assignment. Getting stumped right before you’re finished is the worst because you’re so close to the satisfying feeling of finishing a 15 page research paper on, for example, why first impressions are critical in relationship development.
When this traffic jam of creativity occurs, students have different methods of jump-starting the creative flow.
A method I have adopted is freewriting, and I think it is a tool all students should give a try.
Freewriting is a technique in which a person types or writes continuously for a set period of time with no regard for spelling, grammar or topic. All you do is just write exactly what you are thinking as you are thinking it.
If an assignment already has an assigned topic, then you might be stuck on how to approach it. For a set amount of time, just write whatever comes to mind about the topic and see what comes out. Freewriting can help you discover ideas to explore through writing about that topic.
I never actually attempted freewriting until this semester. I am currently in Advanced Interpersonal Communication, and the instructor assigned a discovery draft writing exercise for the class to do to help us prepare for our final paper.
The point of the discovery draft was to help solidify some ideas for our final paper by thinking as we write. For our final paper, we have to watch a film, take note of all the interpersonal communication that takes place and write a research paper about one of the topics we discussed in class and saw in the film.
In any other class, I probably would have been asked to follow the standard paper format: introduction with a thesis statement, paragraphs supporting the argument and a conclusion summarizing the paper. It makes sense for teachers to want their students to follow a traditional format like this; it organizes students’ arguments in an easy-to-follow presentation.
But with freewriting, the writing process is much more abstract than that. Our professor gave us a set of questions to think about for the discovery draft, and I wrote for 30 minutes without stopping. I turned off my cell phone and wrote in a quiet place. I didn’t care about grammar, spelling or even logic — I just wrote whatever thoughts came to my head and let ideas flow freely.
Afterwards, I spent some time cleaning up the writing so that it was readable for my professor, and she gave me suggestions about how to follow through on the good ideas I have and how to steer clear of any bad ideas.
I initially considered the main character of the film’s non-verbal communication as a possible research topic, but through my freewriting, I was able to see that I’m relating non-verbal cues with first impressions and self-presentation.
Through my freewriting, I realized I was describing situations and scenes in the movie that attributed to first-impressions with non-verbal communication, but I wasn’t explicitly acknowledging them as “first-impressions” and “self-presentation.”
One important benefit I think students can gain from freewriting is that it can help get past the part of yourself that says you can’t write. We all have that “inner critic” that is cynical and softly says that you are terrible at writing.
When I first attempted the discovery draft for my class, it felt weird because it seemed like I was just writing without purpose. I’m too used to worrying about things such as if my paper is following the guidelines correctly, if I’m using the correct style and if the organization in my paper is clear.
But that is also kind of the point with freewriting. It’s going to feel weird the first time doing it because we’re used to creating an outline and making sure everything is following the correct format.
Freewriting allows us to just write without worrying about what we should be writing. There is no evaluation or judgment of your writing, and it allows us to not hold back and let it go.
Students should try to use freewriting in conjunction with the format of writing papers that they are accustomed to. Use freewriting to formulate your ideas and then from those ideas create a thesis statement. It may not work for every student, and some students may not like it, but it never hurts to try.
And with freewriting, we might just be able to create and form the constellations from our stars.
Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Thaddingham.