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Tim Schafer

Writing Update #2: Freewriting Technique

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Thanks for the post Tim =0).

I've been meaning to start this for the past month, but unfortunately my average 10-11 hour day is taken up by programming, marketing, designing, writing, business management and communication, roughly. Did I mention being an indie developer sucks sometimes? Bloody hats. All of them!

I work from home, and a few days a week I have my kids running around, being kids, and my wife running around after, them, being awesome, it's a chaotic utopia of distractions. I've been finding I do "free thinking" in my head, in that hour between waking and sleeping at the end of each day, when I get those moments to myself, then write down the ideas that stick on a notepad in the morning.

But maybe my procrastination has been borne of the idea that I had to put a few hours into it a day. I don't think I can find a good excuse for not being able to block out at least 10 minutes before I switch on the box in the morning. So I guess my take away is to make sure I do it small, rather than not at all. Like going for a walk at lunch time rather than reading forum posts -oops, gotta go!

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I'll give it a shot! 5 min manana- en papel. Whereas I often doodle or scribble using pen and paper, I usually put my thoughts down by typing. But I think it'd be a nice change to get reaccustomed to old fashioned writing. Suppressed memories of HS and college flooding back!

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A very interesting read. I'll definitely have to try this (but probably not tomorrow). Speaking of tomorrow, don't forget it's Towel Day!

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Thank you for sharing this!

I'd been looking into freewriting a bit over the last few months as a way to bypass the jumbled ball of distraction in my head and find the the jumbled ball of crazy ideas that just might work beneath. My writing style is pretty similar to a stream of consciousness already so I thought it would be a good fit, but I'm a skeptic and hadn't taken the plunge quite yet. Then I saw Episode 2 and I went out bought my first notebook and some shiny new pens at Office Max, where the guy seemed puzzled at my asking what their top-selling pens were. I really thought it was a valid question and I stand by it.

I figured it wouldn't hurt to try freewriting out and see how it goes. This is my second week. And I think this post is super helpful and will help me keep it up!

I'm curious, though. What does everyone do when you're on a roll but the session is "over"? Do you continue just far enough to complete your thought? Go into set overtime minutes? Stop no matter what? I was on a small streak this morning and then hit the limit and didn't know what to do with myself! It was an odd feeling mostly because I was not prepared for this eventuality. You make your own rules here but I felt like it'd be cheating to keep going. I'll probably just get over it, big baby, and finish my thought next time, but I'm curious how other people deal with hitting The End.

---

If anyone is having trouble getting started, I was too and I just changed up my goal parameters a bit and it's worked much better for me. I was looking at the clock too much with the timed method, so I instead set a specific number of pages to fill, marked where I was to stop, and then wrote until I hit it. I think my bad start was half due to Early-Stages Disappointment creeping in -- where I'm not very good at something off the bat and so I want to quit and go eat ice cream instead -- and half due to the timed method not working for me personally. So maybe change things up if you're stuck and see what works best for you? (I think I'll move back to timed sessions eventually, but I feel less pressure with the page limit and that's been helpful to get me started.)

---

I really like the feeling you get afterward -- it's very similar to the sensation of having extremely, freshly cleaned hands or dentist-cleaned teeth, except for your brain.

Ha! That's a really good way to put it. Totally agree. That's why I also like doing this in the morning because that squeaky-clean brain is then ready for everything else it will pick up during the rest of the day.

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Just took the time to do this then. 10 minutes turned into 30. Oops!

I love the smell of ink in the morning, smells like... progress.

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Thank you so much for this post. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it. It may not seem like much to you guys but even just the small amount you've shared through this project so far has been incredible. I hope to give this a go tomorrow to see if it can help me get past the writing trouble I'm having at uni right now. Just wanted to put in some positive feedback. Peace!

Edit: I just looked at the scary monster before bed. I may never sleep again.

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I like your pen Tim!

And awesome post too by the way. I find it interesting how people work these things out in their heads and their perspective!

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Thanks for this!

I'm one of those people who have tried free-writing but couldn't keep my pen moving bc my brain couldn't keep up so I'd stop.

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Thanks so much for sharing, Tim. I just realised that I've unconsciously done this sort of stuff from time to time when brainstorming/fleshing out projects.

I like to think that it's all about inertia or momentum, and so long as you're moving, you'll a) keep moving, and b) bump into awesome things along the way.

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I like your pen Tim!

And awesome post too by the way. I find it interesting how people work these things out in their heads and their perspective!

Looks like a Uni-ball pen. I have this pet-peeve about pens with sticky messy ink. I like Uni-ball pens, good strong lines, dark smooth ink.

I had a writer's block once and my creative writing professor sent me pen shopping for a pen I really liked. I showed her the one I'd found and she told me it was my "magic pen"...

I did a lot of good writing and drawing with my magic pen. I highly recommend finding yourself one... or several. =-)

I always love to see someone else's thought process on paper, or what appears to be thinking on paper. (It's one reason I love Thoreau.)

It's especially great to hear something like that from Tim, because mundane as it seems, so many things we all love started just that way.

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It was a great thing to read, I feel like I was invited into a forge and the smith showed me the tools and his secret tricks. I might not be able to use it but it sure is fascinating! Thanks!

I have one question. How do you use what you wrote?

Are you putting the stars and vertical lines the same moment you finish writing a certain idea, or do you read everything at the end of a freewriting session and then decide what might be good and what is not? Do you copy the star-worthy ideas to another place or do you just remember where to look for it months later? I imagine sieving through pages of text it is not a trivial task.

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I've been freewriting almost everyday off and on for about 2 years now. it is very nice.

I really like the feeling you get afterward -- it's very similar to the sensation of having extremely, freshly cleaned hands or dentist-cleaned teeth, except for your brain.

I like to call that MENTAL FLOSS. =-)

ANYONE WHO DOES GET KILLED BY THE HW ASSIGNMENT, IF YOU COULD JUST LEAVE A NOTE IN THE MARGIN, LEAVING YOUR BACKER SWAG TO ME OR SOMEONE ELSE, I'M SURE WE'D ALL APPRECIATE IT AND THINK FONDLY OF YOU FOREVER. =-)

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That was a fun post. I totally agree this works, I think I've been doing that on a smaller scale without acknowledging it in a variety of things. The reason is that putting thoughts into words is a crucial step for me. Many people told me they already think with words, well I don't, but I can translate them into words (sometimes it has the quality of Google translate and although I became over time better at it, writing it still helps).

Not sure about that blood flow to the language center, but blood flow will change based on the brain metabolism. Maybe we should get you under an MRI just to see what happens in your brain when you do free writing. Then we'll know ALL your secrets bwah ha ha.

Wait, now when I think about it, your games with puzzles and this post, so it's all a trick to cause us to use our brain! Hey, that's what I'm doing right now!!

You got me this time, oh no, turning on idle mode, m u s t n o t u s e b r a i n.

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A good post with a lot of good advice, some of which is even good practice outside of freewriting (annotations, etc).

Though your post was all about freewriting, and even though it's super important to not stop during freewriting, you also brought up some good ideas for what to do with the writing that comes out of you once the freewriting session is over. For example, you mentioned that sometimes you can grease the wheels by just going and talking to other people, and for some reason that turns out to be helpful.

There is actually some good support for the conversation step in both pedagogy and in second language acquisition theory. I won't bore you with details and words like "pedagogy", but basically it boils down to this: Imagine that thoughts are sort of like water and can have different "states", and when they're in your head, they're all liquidy and formless and changing all the time. But then, when you SAY a thought to someone else, it goes outside of your head and becomes a sort of "frozen thought". It takes form, becomes solid, stops shifting/changing. It's just out there now, and you can't take it back. Frozen ideas can't sneak away or shift into a different idea before you can get a good look at them. They have to stay just like that, which allows you to look at them and criticize them all day, while they're trapped and vulnerable! And you can invite your friends to do the same! Some people actually believe this is the only way good learning can happen!

I agree with writing/drafting in a place that is either quiet or free of distracting noises. I also listen to music, but I find I can't listen to music that has lyrics, even if it's music I've heard a thousand times, because brains have a very hard time not paying attention when words are being spoken, and it invites your brain to wander off. Finding yourself mouthing the words as you write can be a sign that those lyrics are sneaking in there, even if it doesn't feel like it's distracting. For that reason, I usually try to listen to

of
.

ALSO!!!

I think one of the absolute best best best best best things you can do when you need to get the wheels turning (or to clear your head of distracting things)...

Go take a walk.

It's seriously my favorite thing. It may be safer in other neighborhoods than others, but my favorite thing in the world is some lyricless music on my headphones and a 30-minute walk outside. Especially places I've never been before or don't visit often. And just letting my brain's fingers reach out through my eyeballs and touch everything. I let my eyes and ears touch the world in all its most secret places and I let the world come in through my eyes and touch all my most secret thoughts. It sounds kinda kinky and sexy, but it's a real thing that works!

Basically what this does for me is it's sort of like I've developed a system where I can force my brain into experiencing wonder, even in places I see every day. And I think it's important to have a good relationship with wonder.

Sorry if I'm rambling! Out of all the parts of the DFA, writing is the only part I have significant experience with, and I work with writers every day for my job, so I will probably geek out a little bit with writing updates. Everyone does it a little differently, but there are always commonalities, too. It's super interesting!

Thanks for the update! Can't wait to see where the story is taking you!

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It was a great thing to read, I feel like I was invited into a forge and the smith showed me the tools and his secret tricks. I might not be able to use it but it sure is fascinating! Thanks!

I totally agree with this above quote, I'm going to take a few minutes trying to freetype because I'm currently missing any notepads to write on, maybe I'll get some in a few days when I actually travel further than house to house. Reminds me of the time when I spend some of my down time writing a book-like thing when I traveled abroad; the first "part" is finished but after returning home I found it difficult to continue it due to college stuff and various life stuff going on. Wow, I guess I'm sort of freetyping now. Shoot, I fouled after realizing that. Oh well it's probably better to do it in morning even though it's 18 minutes into the morning but I've been awake the whole day.

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rattatouille cringing at the face of a dull cliffside fear-mongering over countless legions of faceless robots whipping themselves with whipped cream. procrastinating over the job im supposed to do and ignoring proper english makes me feel itchy and aching for robot legions that slowly become self-aware in face of a giant green ball of ooze with a hypnotized monkey laughing in the background, playing the piano. also horseshoes. pestering the illegitimate child, borking the dorks over their corks and passing the day in shadows of a lamp post.

LOL! this is actually fun! i might make this my favourite past time!

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Awesome post, you've inspired me to start doing this. I definitely have related methods of getting into the zone and getting ideas out for music, but I'm not nearly so consistent about it, sometimes going weeks without recording new ideas if my priorities take me elsewhere. This might be just the nudge I needed to change that.

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I was taught how to do this in high school, and absolutely loved it. I just started doing it again when I watched you do it in the video. Thank you for reminding me that I love to write :D.

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Thanks for sharing, Tim!

I do love to write, but I've never given freewriting a shot. Since I am a very thoughtful person I tend to juggle with every word an sentence since it sounds just about right. Freewriting sounds like an almost impossible task for me.

One question remains, though. Do you start to freewrite with an actual goal, like coming up with a story or idea for a game? Or do you just, you know, write and eventually come up with something useful?

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One question remains, though. Do you start to freewrite with an actual goal, like coming up with a story or idea for a game? Or do you just, you know, write and eventually come up with something useful?

I wanted to ask the same question.

@Tim, do you set some goals or give yourself some subject for the start? Or just start with a blank mind and write anything that emerges from the deep mysterious bottom of it?

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This post is incredible. I'm not very visually artistic and know NOTHING about programming, so the other dev posts have been interesting and informative, but writing is a bit of a passion of mine. Thanks for sharing exactly how you go about the process, as I find that I struggle with this sort of thing. I'm currently writing a short story and have to keep a journal (for school) so this is very useful. Unfortunately, my journal will be looked at by others so I won't be able to fully adopt your technique, but I'd love to at least try out something in-between free writing and normal writing. Keep up the awesome work, I can't wait to see more updates on the writing process :)

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All of this really chimes with my own ideas of creativity, which come from 20 years of writing music (more often than not the best ideas come when I'm just playing around or 'make a mistake'), a few years of improvisation classes (which has in common with freewriting that you're encouraged not to try to 'think stuff up')

I've tried freewriting a little but I was discouraged when my mother found all my notes and was 'worried' about me, and then I had to explain how it was just this writing technique and nothing indicative of a disturbed mind, but I was so embarrassed that it sort of killed it for me. So what Tim said is right, it's really important to promise yourself that nobody can see 'em.

Now I'd like to start again, because as I'm writing more for my own game projects I think it might be a really useful thing to pick up once more. And I've moved out years ago, so no more mothersnooping. The trouble is finding the time - I have a full time job, and have enough trouble getting up and out the house in the morning without trying to fit writing in. And so the only time I can really afford to try is the evenings, which might work for me as I'm sort a night person, we'll see.

I also wanted to give support to Anemone's 'take a walk' suggestion. When I was at university I used to walk from the campus to my accommodation with an essay title in my head, and by the time I got home, I'd be ready to write the essay, all the ideas would somehow just churn better on these walks. I still find that with music nowadays, and writing. Ideas love to sneak up on me while I'm walking to and from work, as if the act of going on this familiar route allows my mind to wander. When I'm walking somewhere I don't feel like I should be doing something else - I'm walking, that's doing something, so the part of my mind that demands I be productive calms down. And if it's a route I've taken often, I also don't need to give much processing power to navigation, which means my mind is free to go where it will.

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I also wanted to give support to Anemone's 'take a walk' suggestion. When I was at university I used to walk from the campus to my accommodation with an essay title in my head, and by the time I got home, I'd be ready to write the essay, all the ideas would somehow just churn better on these walks. I still find that with music nowadays, and writing. Ideas love to sneak up on me while I'm walking to and from work, as if the act of going on this familiar route allows my mind to wander. When I'm walking somewhere I don't feel like I should be doing something else - I'm walking, that's doing something, so the part of my mind that demands I be productive calms down. And if it's a route I've taken often, I also don't need to give much processing power to navigation, which means my mind is free to go where it will.

Hear, hear!

"All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." --Nietzsche

It sounds like walking puts you in a sort of zone, where it gives you a base line of brain activity to keep the juices flowing, but not so much brain activity that you're distracted by trying to do other things or think of other things. It's like your brain is a set of bagpipes and walking is the drone to which you play the other notes. Or something similar to that. Possibly with better metaphors that don't involve bagpipes.

I think for me it is about two different kinds of distraction. When you're actually sitting down and writing---moving the pen on the paper---you don't want distractions tapping away at your brain. That's BAD distraction. But if you've got some writing going and you're just trying to solve a problem, or you're trying to brainstorm some material to build on a great concept you've got going, or you're stuck in a rut and can't stop coming back to the same dead ends over and over.... that's when I think a walk is helpful. It offers GOOD distraction.

I think it sort of does two things at once:

1) It defragments your brain's hard drive.

2) It adds a whole new folder of interesting sights, sounds, events, characters, etc you encountered while you were walking, which gives you a sort of burst of energy. Sometimes the stuff that happened on the walk coalesces into things you can use for the current project, but even if it doesn't, you still get that idea flow back in your system, which helps keep you out of a rut.

But I think you are right that there is something kinda zen about a good walk, too. =]

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Hear, hear!

"All truly great thoughts are achieved through walking." --Nietzsche

It sounds like walking puts you in a sort of zone, where it gives you a base line of brain activity to keep the juices flowing, but not so much brain activity that you're distracted by trying to do other things or think of other things. It's like you brain is a set of bagpipes and walking is the drone to which you play the other notes. Or something similar to that. Possibly with better metaphors that don't involve bagpipes.

I think for me it is about two different kinds of distraction. When you're actually sitting down and writing---moving the pen on the paper---you don't want distractions tapping away at your brain. But if you've got some writing going and you're just trying to solve a problem, or you're trying to brainstorm some material to build on a great concept you've got going, or you're stuck in a rut and can't stop coming back to the same dead ends over and over.... that's when I think a walk is helpful. It offers GOOD distraction.

I think it sort of does two things at once:

1) It defragments your brain's hard drive.

2) It adds a whole new folder of interesting sights, sounds, events, characters, etc you encountered while you were walking, which gives you a sort of burst of energy. Sometimes the stuff that happened on the walk coalesces into things you can use for the current project, but even if it doesn't, you still get that sensation of idea flow back in your system, which helps keep you out of a rut.

But I think you are right that there is something kinda zen about a good walk, too. =]

I like the idea of defragmentation. I sort of see it as a private space to think, because if I'm just sitting at home, I'll be liable to think 'I should probably work on that music, or get some writing or drawing done (I ... do lots of things for my games). I should tidy or there's something I wanted to look up on the internet or whatever' Lots of distractions.

Now there can be distractions while walking too. Often I'm listening to a podcast or browsing on my smartphone, but it definitely quiets that urge somewhat, and I've lots count of the number of times a melody, or a line or a name for a character comes into my head while in this state.

At home, if I want to make music the first thing I'll do is just play in a really non judgemental way. Get my keyboard out (which is a tool, I'm not very good with it, which helps because that means I approach it in a naive way) and bash it out. I don't usually record these sessions, but often an idea emerges from them in a similar way to how Tim describes the freewriting.

If anyone's interested in hearing the results of these two processes, here's a recent piece I made that came out of a keyboard bash session: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/20534082/candq4.mp3

And here's one that came to me while walking: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/20534082/ffbbinspace.mp3

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