Imagine a world without a ‘backspace’ key. From 1808 until the advent of the computer, this was a reality. Typewriters are as cool as it gets for writers. We throw stamped images of them into every which graphic design we can, because they just look so neat. And oh, the nostalgia! They remind us of a time when distractions were fewer, where it may actually have been easy (or easier) to complete the book we always dreamed of writing. While the lower distraction-factor may have been true, imagine stamping an “X” over every mistake you made, and having to take the time to type slowly and with purpose in order to avoid doing so. I imagine my page would look something like this:
We are blessed to have a true, non-X-ifying backspace key at our disposal today. Think of all the stupid things you’ve said today. I vote when they insert computer chips into our bodies, we request a backspace of speech key as well. It’s the least our generous overlords can do.
Why the speech about backspacing? I tried freewriting for the first time yesterday. You never truly know what crap your mind and fingers will combine to produce until you try a good old-fashioned free-write. I’d post mine, but I think I’d have to create my own apocalypse if you saw the amount of times I should’ve backspaced and was not allowed to (even if I accidentally did so a few times anyway). In a way, backspace is a curse as well as a blessing. When you are constantly monitoring your mistakes, you are not allowing yourself to write as freely as you can. Would you like to see what I mean? Good!
Here are the steps I took to freewrite:
1. Open a blank document. I used Google Drive.
2. If you don’t know your WPM, use Google to find a good site to determine it. My WPM is 84, so I multiplied this by 10, determining that in 10 minutes I would strive to write 840 words.
3. Open another tab with a timer and alarm clock. Set timer to 10 minutes.
4. Write for 10 minutes. NO backspacing, because if you backspace, it’s not fair to me or to baby Jesus. You’re allowed a few slip-ups the first couple of sessions, but try to be conscious only of not hitting the backspace key. Let your words flow. If you get stuck, type something like “blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH”. You’ll find your brain hates that and switches over to a different gear. You may even produce a gem within this heaping pile of cow dung. That should be encouragement enough to stick it out, always typing, no breaks or distractions within these set 10 minutes.
I repeat: NO distractions. Turn off your messengers and phone alerts, close all unnecessary tabs, lock your partner or roommate out of the house; if your stove catches fire, the extinguishing of such is the only interference you may readily accept. After that, it’s back to the computer to start over again.
5. After the alarm sounds, save and close the document.
6. Review after a good night’s rest. You can review a few hours later but it’s best to be fresh of mind when you read the clump of text you created. You may find it’s easier to pull ideas from this heaping mess this way.
7. Extract! If you truly get nothing out of the exercise, repeat freewriting.
8. Bonus: Try while drunk, only if you don’t have an alcohol problem you’re trying to cure. If you’re trying to cure alcoholism, DO NOT EVER try this bonus. Your bonus is that you’re going to be a happier person one day for not making yourself consistently miserable.
[Aside: I did not make it to 840 words, but rather to 790. Close. I will try to type even more next try.]
You’re bound to pull something of value out of your randomizing brain if you let it flow enough. It’s great mental stimulation. Often times, the best ideas come when we’re not concentrating on thoughts at all (E.g.: showering, cleaning, cooking, etc.). What if you come up with your first book idea thanks to freewriting? You’ll have to come back and comment on this post because I will want to know all about it.
Speaking of which, try this exercise and let me know how it went. I welcome bravely-posted links to garbled text and funny documents full of mistakes. That’s what freewriting is all about.