Friday, July 27, 2012

From Free Writing to Writing That "Counts"

In a comment earlier in the week, Amy Fredrick made the following post:

"I've read here on your blog as well as other dissertation writing books about the importance of free writing or structured free writing every day to get yourself "jumpstarted" into writing. I have a couple questions about this strategy. I presume that free writing is something I should do in the morning or at the beginning of my writing session? Should I do it paper/pencil or on my laptop? The old fashioned way seems to facilitate free-er writing for me, but then I don't know what to do next with the paper? Do I look for nuggets in my writing that could become something in my dissertation and type them in my document somewhere? Or do I just chalk up the experience to a warm-up exercise and don't ever go back to it? Also, a related question, if I start my writing by doing a 15 minute free write, what do I do next? Back to agonizing drafting?? Thanks for any ideas"

This is a great set of questions and issues which warrants some exploration. First,  free writing is not obligatory-it is merely a tool. As with all tools, if it does not seem to be working for you after you try it out for a while, stop using it. Also, if you are able to enter the "important" writing (in this case a dissertation), or what is often called "high stakes writing," than by all means, go with that. Do not feel obliged to jumpstart a process that does that not need  jumpstating.

Now, as far as hand writing verses typing, it really is personal preference. Pay attention to what different "modes" and styles of writing do for you. Now, perhaps the most important question- what do you do with the free writing? How do you move from the low stakes to the high stakes writing?  

I have a few suggestions here. First, There is no clear obligation to "do" anything with it. If it is helping you develop good consistency in writing, that might be enough. Second, if you are finding that you are writing a great deal that seems to be going nowhere, then try writing for only five minutes. Third, you may want your free writing to be a bit less" free." Free writing that focuses on specific questions or issues related to what we are writing can at times be more valuable than "letting it all hang out."  If your free writing is a bit more focused, you may be able to find some hidden gems more easily.  At the top of the page, ask your yourself a question that you want answered, and then start your free writing. Fourth, depending upon what you are trying section of your dissertation you are working on, or what you are trying to "discover," you may find that some mind mapping exercises maybe more valuable than free writing. Mind mapping, which I will explore soon, help you draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Lastly, if you do have a great deal of free writing that you are not sure what do to with, take a look at it AFTER a writing session and see what you have. This may take away some of the pressure to have to use it for writing. At times, separating other tasks from a "writing session" allows us to be productive while decreasing some pressure.

I hope this helps, or at least provides some ideas to try out.

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