Mark Levy's Five Rules to Disobey in Freewriting

Mark Levy, bestselling author and founder of Levy Innovation, wants you to know about the power of freewriting and how it can help find answers to problems, reach goals, and enhance creativity. But using freewriting means discarding some "traditional" standards.

Here's the (much abridged) freewriting process: fix a problem in mind, open a blank document on your computer, set a timer for seven minutes, and begin. Write as fast as you can -- without stopping for any reason -- about your problem.

That's it? Not quite. Below, Mark lists Five "Traditional" Rules and Standards You Should Toss Aside for Effective Freewriting:

First Rule to Break: Don't time yourself. People don't time themselves when they write because they've been taught that timing oneself causes a distraction and puts the focus on time rather than quality of work. Well, forget that rule. Do time yourself. When the timer starts, you start. When it finishes, you finish. By using a timer, you can forget about logistics and spend your attention and energy on writing flat-out.

Second Rule to Break: Stop to think as you write. Forget that training that asks you to measure out each word carefully with forethought. While freewriting, it’s important to keep writing no matter what’s happening in your mind. That means, if you’re stumped, write about being stumped. If your thoughts are choppy, put them down choppily. Stopping for more than a second gives your internal editor a chance to reengage and disrupt the process.

Third Rule to Break: Write at a leisurely pace.
Don't. If you freewrite too slowly, you’re writing, not freewriting. You want to write fast enough so that your internal editor slackens its grip. That means, if your editor is running at five miles an hour, write at six miles an hour. Your fingers needn’t fly over the keyboard. They just need to move at a clip slightly quicker than your norm.

Fourth Rule to Break: Stay on topic.
Too much focus is a bad thing in freewriting. Sticking too closely to a linear route is probably what’s got you blocked in the first place. As Edward De Bono says, "Great ideas are only logical in hindsight." Our minds like to roam. If you start thinking about a TV show you’d like to watch, or a trade your favorite ball team is planning, write about those digressions.

Fifth Rule to Break: Write only from your own experience and reality. Yes, disregard. Since freewriting is done for your eyes only, feel free to make up characters and tell tall tales. Why? They free up the mind and force fresh perspective. Once you come up with an interesting idea in fantasy, you can always bring it back to reality and see if it can be made useable.

Give it a shot and then tell us about your experience below.


Steve Yastrow said...

Mark, when we met a few years ago I tried your freewriting process. It's a gem ... sounds like you've made some updates, and can't wait to learn them and use them. Thanks a ton ... let's be in touch soon.

John Kador said...

Mark, all excellent counter-rules. I totally agree that a timer is critical to freewriting. I've actually found that three minutes is ideal . . . and then do it again for another three minutes.

For some years, I led a writer's group that used freewriting (I called it automatic writing) techniques. People reported that their writing beccame more fluent, easy, metaphoric, personal, and fearless.

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