Every NaNoWriMo journey has its ups and downs, and one of the hardest downs to overcome is the Brick Wall, also known as Writer’s Block or, to anyone experiencing it, Despair.
It’s a common problem around this point every NaNoWriMo. You’ve been going full steam ahead with your work-in-progress all month and now you’re beginning to run out of said steam. You don’t know where to go from here. Maybe your story’s turned stagnant, your characters aren’t cooperating, or your interest in your project is idling. Whatever your problem, you’ve hit a mental brick wall and you need to get past it fast if you want to win NaNoWriMo.
I had this exact problem during Camp NaNoWriMo in 2012. I’d lost interest in my novel, I had zero motivation to write, and midnight was fast approaching. What did I do? I opened up a blank document, set a timer for 10 minutes, and started to free write.
What is the magical technique that is free writing?
Much like word sprinting, free writing involves writing without stopping for a period of time. How free writing differs from word sprinting comes down to what you write. Whereas sprinting usually involves working on your current project, free writing involves splurging your thoughts onto the page without censoring anything.
What you write doesn’t have to be about your work-in-progress. It doesn’t have to be fiction. It doesn’t even have to be coherent. When free writing, you simply talk about whatever is on your mind at the time—maybe a problem you’re having with your plot, the backstory of a character, how you feel about your project and what you wish for it in the future. Nothing is out of bounds.
The important thing about free writing is that you keep going until your timer goes off. Don’t stop, don’t hesitate, don’t edit, don’t correct spelling or punctuation. What you write may sound awful (no, scratch that—it will sound awful), but it doesn’t matter. Just write, and if you can’t think of what to say, write about why you think that might be.
Why is it so crucial that you keep writing, no matter what? It helps you to shut out that critical inner voice and let the muse run free. Fantastic, creative, brilliant ideas that your inner editor might otherwise have dismissed can come to the surface. Your muse can show you what you want to write rather than what you think you should write (and that’s an important distinction—writing the former is much more fulfilling, fun and motivating than the latter). You can find the enthusiasm to keep writing and break through that brick wall.
This was the case for me during Camp ’12. During my 10 minute free write session, I wrote whatever scene came to mind and ended up with two characters I knew next to nothing about, a plot that was a mystery to even me, and a genre I’d never written in before. But that scene connected with something in my soul. Suddenly, I wanted to learn more about these characters, keep writing to discover what would happen in the story, and indulge in a genre that pushed my imagination to its limits. And before I knew it, I’d reached my NaNoWriMo goal.
Besides giving you a plethora of new ideas, free writing is also great practice for when you work on your NaNoWriMo project. You become skilled at silencing your inner editor while writing that first draft, which allows you to churn out more words (no hesitating over phrasing allowed), get further in your story (which gets you to the good stuff quicker), and stumble upon more creative gems (your unleashed muse has some truly amazing ideas). That’s something very advantageous for a WriMo.
So, if you ever find yourself staring at the Brick Wall of Writer’s Block, set a timer for 10 minutes and give free writing a go. It’s a super simple technique that could very well salvage your NaNoWriMo.
Have you ever done a free write session before? What did you find most interesting about it?