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Tim Schafer

Writing Update #2: Freewriting Technique

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Nice to see this. It's much how I do brand name creation (my job). But I also go on the internet a lot to look for answers to questions that come up while creating.

Our company is basically split up into the guys who come up with options (I'm one of them), and guys who select the best out of them. Together we spar about brand positioning, the way the audience makes their choices and possible brand messages and how they could be in the names.

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Thank you so so so much Tim, this is honestly the best lesson I have been given in a very long time. If I give you an unnecessary amount of money could you give me lessons on how to be awesome?

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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.

Even though I said you should stop when you hit your time/pages goal, if you have some ideas in your head but have not written them down, then by all means get them down on paper. Write down every idea you have always. (Or call yourself and leave it on your voice mail.) Never assume you will remember it later if it's a great idea, because even if it is great, you'll forget.

So write past your deadline if you have more ideas.

BUT I wouldn't just sit there past the deadline just waiting for new ideas to come.

Writing Wrules!

This goes for drawing as well. Always keep a small sketchbook on hand. Always. Draw everything, every idea, always. When you sit down to draw just fill the page with anything and everything. Don't worry about what it is or if it makes sense. Just DRAW.

I have a notebook and sketchbook on hand, always. And interestingly, I use them interchangeably for writing and drawing (doodles in my notebook. paragraphs in my sketchbook.)

Just GET THOSE IDEAS DOWN!

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This goes for drawing as well. Always keep a small sketchbook on hand. Always. Draw everything, every idea, always. When you sit down to draw just fill the page with anything and everything. Don't worry about what it is or if it makes sense. Just DRAW.

I have a notebook and sketchbook on hand, always. And interestingly, I use them interchangeably for writing and drawing (doodles in my notebook. paragraphs in my sketchbook.)

Just GET THOSE IDEAS DOWN!

I've never tried free writing before reading this post. I was vaguely aware that it existed, but I've never had any of my professors mention it in my university classes, most of which involve vast amounts of subjective writing. I've never really had a problem in the past with writing essays, but lately I've been getting stuck while writing essays for the most basic classes, which is problematic. I went and grabbed a new spiral notebook for a couple bucks last week and I have been writing like mad ever since, and I am finding that it is really helping to keep me on track. I also feel that free writing four or five pages every day noticeably has improved my writing.

I'm not sure why I've never tried free writing before, since I carry a sketchbook (or two, of various sizes along with a pocket watercolour set) on me all the time. I suppose the moral here is that it helps to try new things!

Thanks for the tips, Tim!

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Its been a while since I've actively tried doing freewriting, not since the first creative writing workshop I took in college. I'm definitely going to do this as a daily routine though; I've got a project I've been working on for a while that I got stalled on recently and this could help me get some new ideas or at least help me power through the section I'm stuck on.

Honestly thought I was done with homework after graduating but whatever, I'll make an exception for this.

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I have been working on a project myself for a few months now and after seeing the documentary episode I opted to try something similar to Schafer's freewriting. I do actually pause writing to let my mind wander, in flagrant defiance of our lord and master, but it works for me! I've gotten 21 pages of good ideas so far and it's all thanks to putting my nose to the grind stone for 3 hours a day (2 days so far!). Thank you Tim, for the inspiration! It has made my project more, and more is what I want.

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I gave this ago when I was having issues at an idea in college, after a page I was nailed down to what to do and finished the product in a day. Thanks :)

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I really have to thank you for the "writing is a job" note. I almost constantly forget that I'm not the only one who finds writing kinda sorta hard at times. As somebody who recently graduated with a degree in film, it's really encouraging to read. By the end of the summer, so help me, this screenplay is getting finished.

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I actually do something similar, but with talking. I'm trying to improve my spoken English you see, and the combination of not having enough time and natives to talk to has led me to resort to talking to myself. I don't do it routinely, like, sometimes I do it on the way home and just start talking to myself in English without actually knowing what I'm going to talk about.

Obviously my surroundings and people I encounter affect my thinking process, so I might jump from discussing lucid dreaming with myself to "hahaha that dude looks RIDICOLOUS". While they probably think I'm mental for blabbering to myself.

But yeah, I'm gonna start doing this regularly. Being a part time game journalist I do write a lot, and this kind of thing feels crucial in keeping you fresh.

Also, TOTALLY agreed on the fact that when you can't write the best thing to do is talk to people. I do it all the time. The only bad thing about it is that when the ideas finally surge, you want to stop talking to them lest you forget about all those awesome ideas. Which I'm guilty of doing in more than one occasion.

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So I started free-writing sometime between this post came out and the second documentary video, for approximately an hour each day. I say approximately because sometimes I fudge it and I’ve discovered it’s better to free-write in an area where your family members can’t freely walk through and claim your attention while you are trying to Be Creative. Leads to distractions and rage-quits. And it’s better to have tissues nearby in case of allergy season. But anyway.

I had a lot of ideas and no one major project when I started my notebook, so there are a lot of tag marks for various bodies of work that I mull over between being sure that I’m doing this wrong and ranting about whatever peppers my cucumber at the moment. However, June is Camp Nanowrimo, and while I already have plenty of half-baked novel plots, I kinda wanted a fresh one. And this morning while I was free-writing, I started with a tiny thread of an idea, followed it into a dead end, backed up, and by the end of the session I pretty much had the basic idea for my novel.

So, you know, it works, even if half of what you write ends up being about how much you want to get up and wipe your nose.

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I wonder... Mr. Schafer if I could so request it, for my benefit and others, can you spoil more of the game for us? Specifically because I want to see the sausage being made, warts and all! With this free-writing technique I and others have taken, per your recommendation, we have mountains of ideas. However I still wonder how this coagulates in terms of writing a video-game story. How does one refine these ideas as the story writer and part of a larger team, which is part of a larger game? I would be happy to sacrifice the wonderful story you're crafting (or perhaps just parts of it, because I am excited for it) if I and other members of this forum could learn more techniques such as this.

Mr. Schafer I have taken your spin on free-writing and made it my own, and for that I thank you! You mention charts for your tale, and some other details briefly in your original post. I beg of you more, please!

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Hmmm, I am planning on starting the first novel that I will publish electronically. This sounds like good practice. Will probably adapt it.

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I'll do it as well. Analog. Pen and Paper. Thanks for this insight and the strategies to fight myself from getting distrac-- Squirrel!

Oh and by the way, I really like this forum, in some other forums I were there was a big amount of people obviously practicing freewriting in every open thread.

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I wonder if it being analog is really so vital. Time spent on it can potentially be a lot more productive if typing because it's a faster medium to get information down than pen and paper (depending on typing speed, I guess). I wonder if a slight delay in writing stuff down actually aids the process somewhat. I know that I can generally type faster than I think if it's brainstorming but writing is pretty slow for me.

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Just caught up to the last video, and now I find this thread. A big fat thank you is in order!

I have done a lot of creative writing throughout my education and I have been trying to maintain it since, having yet to find a job that actually makes use of it. But it's trickier without the feedback and creative environment I used to have. One day I'm on fire, the next it can all grind to a mind numbing halt. The latter of course happens more often than the former. This concept of free writing is new to me, but I can say it has been really inspiring to learn more about it. Just the thing I need. Now I can't wait to get my hands on a fresh notebook and start!

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I wonder if it being analog is really so vital. Time spent on it can potentially be a lot more productive if typing because it's a faster medium to get information down than pen and paper (depending on typing speed, I guess). I wonder if a slight delay in writing stuff down actually aids the process somewhat. I know that I can generally type faster than I think if it's brainstorming but writing is pretty slow for me.

I say yes. I my brain cannot keep up with my fingers on the keyboard and drawing out a concept (literally) is sometimes incredibly helpful. However if typing is more cogent with your brain, then do it dude! Whenever I type, and it always comes down to typing, I find myself stopping for long periods of time for my brain to catch up. Sometimes placing my head on the desk, somewhat frustrated (head banging). In my opinion it is all about having a flow that doesn't stop. Whether or not you write 100% of the time isn't the primary concern, but that you are constantly flowing from idea to idea is.

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I wonder if it being analog is really so vital. Time spent on it can potentially be a lot more productive if typing because it's a faster medium to get information down than pen and paper (depending on typing speed, I guess). I wonder if a slight delay in writing stuff down actually aids the process somewhat. I know that I can generally type faster than I think if it's brainstorming but writing is pretty slow for me.

I say yes. I my brain cannot keep up with my fingers on the keyboard and drawing out a concept (literally) is sometimes incredibly helpful. However if typing is more cogent with your brain, then do it dude! Whenever I type, and it always comes down to typing, I find myself stopping for long periods of time for my brain to catch up. Sometimes placing my head on the desk, somewhat frustrated (head banging). In my opinion it is all about having a flow that doesn't stop. Whether or not you write 100% of the time isn't the primary concern, but that you are constantly flowing from idea to idea is.

It can be done with typing, in fact I've been doing it by typing for the past 18 days. It's definitely different to doing it by handwriting, there are tradeoffs but the drawbacks can be somewhat mitigated by working on suppressing your desire to correct typos (I find that not looking at the screen helps). I suppose one could keep a pad and pen next to them in case they suddenly needed to sketch something.

As for brain/hand speeds and so on i think it's really just discipline. Your brain should always be able to keep pace with your fingers, it's pretty good! If you're finding yourself having to stop and think then it could be that you're slightly overcensoring/editing the pen-and-paper version in your mind, too, but just getting away with it better because of the slower speed of your handwriting.* But of course I can't speak your own experience. When I've been doing this exercise I've been typing at 50-60wpm, and I still find myself able to pull thoughts down easily, pausing only when I have to scratch my ear or something.

Vitally, for me, it doesn't take long. My morning routine now (and this is the first time I've had one, ever, except for my previous one which was to stumble out of bed at the last possible moment, quickly shower, throw some clothes on and leave for work) is to write 750 words (via 750words.com which someone pointed out a few pages back), then walk 4 miles, then take the tube the rest of the way to the office. To do that I get up at 6:30, which is about as early as my grumbly night-person self can bear to do. 750 words takes me approximately 15 minutes, which is what I can afford to fit into that morning routine. Sometimes I go back to it later, but as far as getting words out in the morning, on my schedule, it has to be typing.

As for the other stuff, I am experimenting with breaking up the format a little: trying to write lists, etc, but it's true that there's just less you can do with a written page on a computer without stopping to make adjustments, so mostly it's just big blocks of texts.

*Another improvisation exercise we have which is interesting is to try to pull objects out of an imaginary box and call them by name, reacting positively to each one, throwing it away, grabbing the next and so on. It's fascinating to see how censory people can be with pulling stuff out, and how much faster it can be done with practice. I can do it twice as quickly as when I started, and it's not that my brain it working faster, it's that I'm guarding my thoughts less. I think the same is probably true with writing down ones thoughts as they occur.

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Keep in mind that I'm saying my hand doesn't keep up with my brain (I see that the responder has the opposite problem). I also often do little improve stories so it's hard to keep me off guard since my family has done that since I was a little kid. I can go quite a ways into freewriting without getting tripped up and having to write gibberish which is kinda the point. So, if I'm not careful I can get through an entire session with several actually thought out stories. It isn't that I'm a slow writer, it's that I've always been good with thinking like this and I've always been a quick punch-up writer so to speak. Typing is a lot better than that though as far as the thinking/output ration and if I'm fast about it and loathe to edit then I can get tripped up and it works just fine. It's just that analog feels better. Pen and paper is like reading a real book. It's tangible and adds so much to the senses.

Yes, keeping actual pen and paper at the side is a must. But I don't really have a firm grasp on the tradeoffs. I like pen and paper more, but it just isn't fast enough.

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Keep in mind that I'm saying my hand doesn't keep up with my brain (I see that the responder has the opposite problem). I also often do little improve stories so it's hard to keep me off guard since my family has done that since I was a little kid. I can go quite a ways into freewriting without getting tripped up and having to write gibberish which is kinda the point. So, if I'm not careful I can get through an entire session with several actually thought out stories. It isn't that I'm a slow writer, it's that I've always been good with thinking like this and I've always been a quick punch-up writer so to speak. Typing is a lot better than that though as far as the thinking/output ration and if I'm fast about it and loathe to edit then I can get tripped up and it works just fine. It's just that analog feels better. Pen and paper is like reading a real book. It's tangible and adds so much to the senses.

Yes, keeping actual pen and paper at the side is a must. But I don't really have a firm grasp on the tradeoffs. I like pen and paper more, but it just isn't fast enough.

I think if you're going slower you definitely need to do more to distract yourself from being too 'thinky' I guess there are techniques for that, and again it's just being disciplined about being hyper-aware of what you're writing right now and not thinking several sentences ahead or about what would be interesting to write next.

One thing I like about typing is that if I'm typing at 50WPM or more I really don't have time to plan out my next sentence. It does feel more mechanical, perhaps less personal, but not in a bad or good way, it's just like a different flavour.

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I hardly ever write by hand, but I type A LOT every single day. So when I try to freewriting by hand, it just doesn't work out, because not only can my hand not keep up with my brain, I also have to be more conscious of the physical movements of my hand because I don't write like that very much. So I do typing instead.

Whenever I begin doing a freewriting exercise, I always start with one question I want to answer for that session. It may not be the FINAL answer, but I want to get AN answer for that question in this session. So I'll start off with a question like: who is the villain and what does he/she want?

And then I'll immediately begin typing as though I'm having a conversation myself, usually beginning by explaining to myself a sort of "the story so far..." kind of bit, as if I'm saying, "Okay, here's what we know". And then after that I just start running through possibilities. What if the villain were A. If A, then here's some stuff that would probably be true or that I could explore. Oh, but that makes me wonder what if the villain were B, then I could look at this kinda stuff.

It's really the same kind of thought process I would have were I not doing freewriting, but the benefit of freewriting is that you can't go back and edit yourself or stop yourself from completing a thought. It turns your brain into a thought train that is just hauling, hauling, hauling ideas like it doesn't give a *****.

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I hardly ever write by hand, but I type A LOT every single day. So when I try to freewriting by hand, it just doesn't work out, because not only can my hand not keep up with my brain, I also have to be more conscious of the physical movements of my hand because I don't write like that very much. So I do typing instead.

Whenever I begin doing a freewriting exercise, I always start with one question I want to answer for that session. It may not be the FINAL answer, but I want to get AN answer for that question in this session. So I'll start off with a question like: who is the villain and what does he/she want?

And then I'll immediately begin typing as though I'm having a conversation myself, usually beginning by explaining to myself a sort of "the story so far..." kind of bit, as if I'm saying, "Okay, here's what we know". And then after that I just start running through possibilities. What if the villain were A. If A, then here's some stuff that would probably be true or that I could explore. Oh, but that makes me wonder what if the villain were B, then I could look at this kinda stuff.

It's really the same kind of thought process I would have were I not doing freewriting, but the benefit of freewriting is that you can't go back and edit yourself or stop yourself from completing a thought. It turns your brain into a thought train that is just hauling, hauling, hauling ideas like it doesn't give a *****.

Yeah, that's the ticket. That's more or less my approach there, and actually I totally was writing the other day about who is the villiain and what does he/she want? And it really is just a free exploration of possibilities except without giving yourself the time to think things up that you want to be clever or funny, and getting to bits of your brain that you wouldn't have necessarily deliberately accessed.

Sometimes I start without a purpose and it usually goes something like: 'Okay, so here I am another morning another writing session so I think what I'd like to focus on today is ' and whatever pops in at that point will be what I write about for a while.

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I think if you're going slower you definitely need to do more to distract yourself from being too 'thinky' I guess there are techniques for that, and again it's just being disciplined about being hyper-aware of what you're writing right now and not thinking several sentences ahead or about what would be interesting to write next.

One thing I like about typing is that if I'm typing at 50WPM or more I really don't have time to plan out my next sentence. It does feel more mechanical, perhaps less personal, but not in a bad or good way, it's just like a different flavour.

Ah, you mean I should clear my mind out on purpose and really try to not think about anything.

Hmm, I should try that. If Freewriting induces the "aha moments" that come out of subconscious reasoning then the entire purpose really is just to engage that area of the brain so I guess it should work. I mentioned an NPR segment about a study they did which showed how this stuff works people are more likely to have breakthroughs when they're relaxed and/or not thinking about the issue. If this is the case, and the research looks solid, then I'll mention again that Tim's method really is ahead of its time even if it seems awfully old and low tech. Haha.

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Ah, you mean I should clear my mind out on purpose and really try to not think about anything.

That sounds more like free association writing, which I think is a little different than free writing, but still very cool for its own reasons.

I've done free association writing before, and it takes FOREVER to finally get your brain into a weird zen state where you are keeping the pen moving without thinking about what words you're putting down. I think it took me around 3-4 pages before I finally got there. But then when you do get there, and crank out a couple of pages, and then go back and read it, it's REALLY interesting. It doesn't look like a story at all, but it can be funny, surprising, and sometimes scary to see what lives inside your head.

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Ah, you mean I should clear my mind out on purpose and really try to not think about anything.

That sounds more like free association writing, which I think is a little different than free writing, but still very cool for its own reasons.

I've done free association writing before, and it takes FOREVER to finally get your brain into a weird zen state where you are keeping the pen moving without thinking about what words you're putting down. I think it took me around 3-4 pages before I finally got there. But then when you do get there, and crank out a couple of pages, and then go back and read it, it's REALLY interesting. It doesn't look like a story at all, but it can be funny, surprising, and sometimes scary to see what lives inside your head.

Well, I think it's a blurry area. I mentioned it earlier but my improv tutor described 3 loose ways of thinking, the instinctual where it's just sort of emotional reactionary stuff splatting out that may or may not make any sense, intellectual which is more about thinking stuff up and working it out, and intuitive, which is where you know what you're doing, but you didn't consciously think it up.

If you're doing, say, a scene, then you need all three to an extent, but mostly intuition. Why intuition? Well, look at the others.

1) Instinct doesn't really have a direction, it can be used to point your brain in a direction, but you have to do more then to make it meaningful. (How this relates to writing: if you are typing REALLY fast sometimes you can overtake your brain and it does end up as a sort of weird instinct thing that doesn't make any sense, and you know it's time to pull it back juuuust a touch)

2) Intellect doesn't work because you don't have time, the audience can TELL if you are thinking stuff up, and you will end up editing and censoring and missing cues that the other people are giving you and generally getting into that uncreative place. Intellect is best used as sort of tilting the pinball table JUST a touch to get the ball back on track ('Oh yeah, this is a scene about who the villain is, we should get back to that') (How this relates to writing: if you're free writing, you similarly don't have time to figure stuff out and think stuff up before it comes out, though you might be figuring stuff out -through- the process of writing)

So that leaves this sort of mushy middle ground intuition stuff where your output is meaningful and purposeful but still pretty much unchained. I've heard it described as like a wheel of thoughts spinning around like crazy, and you just don't have capacity or the time to make a careful selection, and if you try for one, chances are you'll swing and miss. So instead you have to reach out, grab the first one that comes to hand and trust that it is the right one. Because you have a magic hand. And intuitive hand. Or something.

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My issue is that I can write at a maximum of 113 wpm. I literally do write as fast as my mind can keep up, but sometimes my mind stops. To create a disparity by keeping my brain ahead of my typing always throws me off. Or does it? I have to try this some more, I am uncertain. I do appreciate you bringing up thoughts on the screen, I Have noticed that turning it off really helps. This all seems to come down to varying a theme until you find what is right for you. Then the difficult part of making it routine!

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My issue is that I can write at a maximum of 113 wpm. I literally do write as fast as my mind can keep up, but sometimes my mind stops. To create a disparity by keeping my brain ahead of my typing always throws me off. Or does it? I have to try this some more, I am uncertain. I do appreciate you bringing up thoughts on the screen, I Have noticed that turning it off really helps. This all seems to come down to varying a theme until you find what is right for you. Then the difficult part of making it routine!

Yeah, it's really figuring out what works for you. As for your fast typing you may be surprised at what you're able to achieve with practice. People are really, very good at filtering things out of their brain without even being fully aware of it. For example, in my experiments the last few weeks I've found on occasion I've used weasel words or non-committal phrasing that it a little out of step with my actual thoughts, as if I expected someone else to read it, and I'm aware of that but also have to be careful of going the other way and deliberately trying to say a bunch of provocative things just to prove to myself that I'm writing my actual thoughts down. There might be a way you can stop your brain from stopping, trick it into carrying on without having to actually stop. For example:

-You might just get better at letting the thoughts flow through

-You could just type whatever the last word you typed or 'blank blank blank blank' over and over again until you get something

Alternatively, sometimes what I like to do is give myself 'ramps' into content, which is another technique I borrow from improv. So I'm in a scene, don't know what to say, nothing is coming, I'm completely stuck and so to jumpstart my mind I say something that I NEED to follow through, without knowing how: "This can only mean one thing! ..." or "Listen, I don't know how to tell you this, but..." or "Here, let me get my..." or whatever it might be. That works quite well with freewriting, too, because it keeps you moving, it keeps you just distracted enough to not have to try digging for something 'clever' or 'original', and hopefully by the time you get to the blank bit at the end you'll just know what to fill it with.

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My ideas seem a lot goofier when I freewrite. When I steel myself and let my mind wander, writing down what comes, things seem cleaner all around. Either way I have learned a lot from all of this. Even using a non-freewriting method the principle of not censoring yourself, at all, is brilliant. Thanks ALoAP in particular! I consider myself a nascent developer and it's wonderful to get advice like this for me.

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Hello Freewriters!

I wanted to add one final thought to this discussion of freewriting. I know I said it was all loosey goosey and you write whatever you want and that's true. BUT it is also good, and totally possible, to do that while having a goal in mind.

For example, you can start your freewriting session by writing down a question you want to answer, like, "What's the name of my main character?" or "What is the end of act 2?" or "What the hell is this game going to be about?" And then you try to answer that question in your freewriting.

It's okay if you wander off topic, like, "I think in the end of act 2 there should be an explosion like in that movie... oh wait that reminds me I need to get that leak in my gas tank fixed or I'm going to have an explosion of my own to worry about. And speaking of disasters, wtf is up with Mel Gibson?"

It is also okay to nudge your self back on topic from time to time after you've let yourself wander. Like, "...and then he said all that stuff about his girlfriend and... oh wait. I'm trying to figure out what happens at the end of act 2. Hey, that's an idea. My character could get a DUI."

See? You never know where ideas could come from.

So, even though your writing is FREE, don't worry about giving it some gentle direction and goals.

That's it! You now know everything in the world there is to know about writing! Ever!

What will you master next?

EDIT: fixed your/you're error, my most common bugaboo. I also suck at its/it's. But I am in the 99th percentile when it comes to less/fewer!

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I shall master Christmas cards! Behold the clear goal in mind!

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It's interesting when I read this.

The writing process I use is quite different but it is Similar as well. Instead of using coil note books I use hardcover physics books with grid and blank pages in. Before starting a project I wait for a few days to let the idea ripen, and then I write. Once the idea stops I type the idea without worrying about anything else into a word processor.

I find this to be a good process to use. I work the best when I do essays, proposals and articles.

The hardest and longest part is turning it into a presentable piece of work for everyone else to enjoy.

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