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Writing Without Teachers, 2nd ed., by Peter Elbow (Oxford University Press, 1998)


A discovery (or prewriting) strategy intended to encourage the development of ideas without concern for the conventional rules of writing.

When freewriting, advises Peter Elbow in Writing Without Teachers, "Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing." The only rule to follow in freewriting is simply not to stop writing.

See also:


  • "Freewriting is the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all-around practice in writing that I know. To do a freewriting exercise, simply force yourself to write without stopping for ten minutes. Sometimes you will produce good writing, but that’s not the goal. Sometimes you will produce garbage, but that’s not the goal either. You may stay on one topic; you may flip repeatedly from one to another: it doesn’t matter. Sometimes you will produce a good record of your stream of consciousness, but often you can’t keep up. Speed is not the goal, though sometimes the process revs you up. If you can’t think of anything to write, write about how that feels or repeat over and over 'I have nothing to write' or 'Nonsense' or 'No.' If you get stuck in the middle of a sentence or thought, just repeat the last word or phrase till something comes along. The only point is to keep writing. . . .

    "The goal of freewriting is in the process, not the product."
    (Peter Elbow, Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998)

  • Planners and Plungers
    "Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, a midcareer school for journalists, and Don Fry, a freelance writing coach, divide writers into 'planners' and 'plungers.' Like Don, I'm a planner who likes to know the central point and general organization of what he's about to write before he types the first line. Roy's a plunger. So sometimes he just jumps into a topic and starts writing whatever comes to mind. After a while, a focus emerges. Then he backs out, throws away most of what he's written, and starts over. He calls that first round of writing a 'vomit draft.'

    "In more polite circles, that's called freewriting."
    (Jack R. Hart, A Writer's Coach: An Editor's Guide to Words That Work. Random House, 2006)

  • Freewriting in a Journal
    "Freewriting can be compared to the warming-up exercises that athletes perform; freewriting limbers up the muscles of your mind, gets you in the mood, undams the stream of language.

    "Here is a bit of practical advice: if you have mental writer's cramp, merely sit down with your journal and start entering words in it, just as they pop into your mind; don't even think about sentences necessarily, but fill a complete page of your journal with spontaneously discovered words. There is a good chance that this uncontrolled, effortless writing will begin to assume a direction that you can follow."
    (W. Ross Winterowd, The Contemporary Writer: A Practical Rhetoric, 2nd ed., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981)

  • Freespeaking
    "If you are better at talking out than writing out your ideas, try freespeaking, the talking version of freewriting. Begin by speaking into a tape recorder or into a computer with voice-recognition software, and just keep talking about your topic for at least seven to ten minutes. Say whatever comes to your mind, and don't stop talking. You can then listen to or read the results of your freespeaking and look for an idea to pursue at greater length."
    (Andrea Lunsford, The St. Martin's Handbook, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008)

Also Known As: stream-of-consciousness writing
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