June 4, 2016

Last semester, I surprised my creative writing class with a simple but profound assignment. Forget about the usual high standards for submissions. Whatever they wanted to do was fine with me. All they needed to do was write for 10 minutes a day.

That was it.

Their topics, punctuation and logical sequencing of ideas were irrelevant. In fact, if their writing made sense and looked too tidy, that was a negative. It meant they were still concerned about performing to someone’s standards.

And by the way, I freed myself, too. Instead of collecting their homework, I told them they were writing for their eyes only. So less work for me!

Then, the magic happened.

Over the next few weeks, my students surprised me — to the point where I now write 10 minutes every day, too.

Along the way, I’ve learned to lighten up, be more fun and have more fun.

Here’s what happened…

Even though I never saw a word of their 10-minute exercises, the benefits showed. Every student improved tremendously — and yes, I do mean every single one. They functioned at a writing level more developed than I had ever witnessed at that particular stage of the course.

Another unexpected bonus: My students seemed to be finding resolution or at least deeper understanding of their personal issues. These writers began submitting kick-ass reflections about complicated relationships. From reflecting on difficult dads and diva moms to romances gone bad, they wrote in compelling ways.

Their writing voices also began transforming. Several of them unearthed a hidden gift for sharp humor in describing their most painful moments. Most said they wanted to continue free writing as a daily practice. Now, we’re all doing it!

How free writing works

Free writing has been around for decades. Today, it’s considered part of the practice of journaling — which is considered a miracle cure for many issues. In today’s self-care climate, studies show that journaling alone can improve our immune systems, confidence levels, sleep patterns and even our IQ.

Even though I’ve known about free writing for years, I only got interested after self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander blogged about how this type of writing saved his life.

There’s plenty of stuff out there about this technique for writing raw, honest and fast. Here’s my summary of how it works:

  • Free writing liberates us from the trap of overthinking. Even non-writers can use it to clear writer’s block, develop creatively and spark new ideas.
  • Perfectionists, take note. The freedom to write crap banishes performance pressure. It frees me from doing my best, giving my all, writing to win — and other toxic, paralyzing clichés.
  • The free writing process is flexible. Some people tap into it once in a while. But for me, it’s as essential to my daily morning routine as brushing teeth.
  • Writing for only 10 minutes is simple to do. I set the timer on my iPhone, which eliminates the distraction of watching the clock. I stop writing once the alarm rings. Done.
  • What I write is unimportant. It’s the practice that counts. So if I’m feeling blank, I might type, “i don’t know what the %&$! to write about this sucks. why am i doing this.” Or, I might look around the room and describe an object. The pure act of writing usually triggers other random thoughts.
  • I can’t stand to re-read my free writing. But when I come up with an occasional appealing phrase, sentence or idea, I copy and paste it for future reference. Will I ever look at it again? Who knows? Who cares? Whatever!

Write free to solve problems & improve relationships

Even though I see a shrink and belong to 12-step support groups, free writing offers a different kind of healing. These daily 10 minutes of alone-time create a meditation. By talking to myself without anyone watching or responding, I stretch and declutter internally.

This morning, I woke up cranky. I started off by free writing about my annoying life. Profanity pounded through paragraph after paragraph — until the fury dissolved.

In the open emotional space, I suddenly saw the true reason for my rage. I was feeling ashamed of of my imperfections, my inability to complete a to-do list of personal projects. By the time the 10-minute alarm sounded, I had flushed through the frustration.

Why am I so hard on myself? Hmmm. In the old days, I might’ve blamed my parents. These days, I know I have certain triggers that can set me off. With my new self-awareness, I use free writing to work through the old and new me. I can appreciate my parents — and, my own journey.

I’ve also gotten more relaxed around my loved ones. At least in my own mind, I’m less demanding and bossy.  :)

Free writing allows me to catch the harsh voice and soothe the hurt, neglected inner child who wants to screw up my life as a way to get attention. I can pinpoint destructive thinking because I see it take the form of cruel words towards myself and others. Articulation leads to liberation.

Best of all, I feel like life is moving forward in ways that feel good. I’m having more fun too. That’s the key to the process — getting to a place where life is much more fun.

How about you? Have you tried free writing or have thoughts about the writing and problem-solving process?