Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh the Joys of Freewriting!

Camy here, talking today about how freewriting is saving my sanity.

Yes, it’s true, I’m not being melodramatic (although Ruthy would probably differ—hush, woman!).

Usually, when I’m brainstorming a new novel, I am armed with a pen, Post-It notes, and my closet doors:

For this next novel, I sat and stared at those darn closet doors for a couple hours. No ideas. Nada. Just blank doors and a stack of Post-It notes.

One thing I’ve learned is that each novel I write is different. Sometimes I write it in a different way: less plotting or more plotting. Character charts or no character charts. Plot came first or characters came first. Sometimes, the writing comes easily and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth from a fish.

It is true for this next novel, too—I couldn’t brainstorm the way I normally brainstorm a book.

So, I fell back on one of the first techniques I learned, freewriting.

I discovered the power of freewriting when I read the book Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. Many of the exercises included a time of freewriting to get my brain into right-brain creative mode, and to help release inhibitions as I wrote so that I could bring out more of my natural, raw writer’s voice.

So, I got on my computer with a fresh file in Word and started just writing ideas for this new book, in any order.

I wrote character quirks and scene ideas. I wrote snippets of dialogue that didn’t really make sense, but I didn’t stop to scold myself, I just kept going.

Eventually I started focusing more and more on my heroine. I knew the basic story premise—my heroine is going to do the Couch to 5K running training program. Other than that, I had no clue.

So I created her family, spitting out ideas (many of them contradictory). I created her friends and workplace. I created her self-image and faith. I didn’t stop to think if any of this congealed, I just threw out ideas as they came to me. Some of them I liked.

Strangely, I didn’t come up with many ideas I didn’t like. I just kept writing. I think I’d gotten into that mode where the good stuff is coming out of my fingers, so I kept typing.

By the time I was done with ideas, I had a nice file, and surprisingly, most of it was usable.

Now, I still didn’t have an external goal, or much of an internal arc, and the hero was almost nonexistent (this is supposed to be a romance, not a women’s fiction). But I had something, which was more than I had after two hours staring at my stupid closet doors.

So I guess my point is, when you’re stuck on a new story idea, try freewriting! Or maybe some of you already have done that. Share your stories in the comments!

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novel Single Sashimi is out now, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent, is out next month. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!


  1. Hey guys! Since I'm on West Coast time, I might not get to your questions until the afternoon (my time), so just sit tight! I'd love to hear from you all!

    Oh, and in deference to Ruthy, I have baked cinnamon rolls and they are sitting on the sideboard with extra glaze in a bowl on the side. :)

  2. Hi Camy,
    Love your freewriting idea. I'm ready to brainstorm a new story idea and plan to use your suggestions in this post.

    I once heard Jennifer Crusie say she writes about 10,000 words and then decides if the plot can be developed into a full-length story. Sounds like your freewriting technique.

    Thanks for a great writing tip!

    Can't wait to get your Love Inspried Suspense. I know it'll be an exciting read!

  3. Camy, uh ... this sounds like my natural method of writing a book as a pantser ... no thought, no planning, just sit down and let a first line take me away.

    Yeah ... that worked for the first series, but now that that I am on a second series about the same 14 people, well, I'm staring at those walls too from time to time. And I do know "freewriting" works because I learned it in a fiction-writing class and was AMAZED at the stuff I wrote and wanted to keep. Guess I'll try it again and thanks for the suggestion ... because anything is better than a blank wall ... or monitor ... :)


  4. I've never tried this, but it sounds like a great idea. Thanks, Camy.

  5. This sounds like a super idea! In fact, in the Writer's Portable Therapist, (that I won here! whoot!) it speaks of free writing alot. I am sure it is therapeutic as well as a great jumping off point for future works.

  6. Hi Camy!

    Why, everytime I visit Seekerville, do I feel so hungry? I'm currently scowling at my lame bowl of Smart Start.

    Great post! I love freewriting. It's very freeing. No rules! I definitely want to get that book on finding your voice.

    I just read about this awesome exercise from James Scott Bell. Imagine your character is sitting in front of you. And s/he's mad. Start writing in your character's voice... why is s/he mad. I haven't even done it yet and already the ideas are flowing!

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. Great advice, Camy.

    I'm planning to plan (how's that for organized) my next book in a couple weeks. We're driving halfway across the country on vacation so I'll have lots of time to stare out the window at passing cornfields and brainstorm to my heart's content. (Well, in between settling sibling squabbles in the backseat.)

    Therefore, the current goal is to get the current WIP into shape before we leave. I know I'll want to dive into the new ideas when we return.

  8. Camy you do have a way with writting, I wish I could win one of your books, someday, but until then you just keep on posting those notes. LOL


  9. Good morning, Camy. Thanks for a terrific suggestion to freewrite when the ideas aren't flowing. Just doing something has to be better than staring at a blank screen.

    The cinnamon rolls are yummy. Thanks!


  10. We're suppose to just free associate ideas right?

    Camy says something, I think of something else, has little to do with whatever Camy said but I'm still supposed to share that with you all, right?

    So, one thing I do at some point in my WIP is-I write a love scene between my hero and heroine. Very steamy, very passionate.

    .........Very un-usable. :)

    But this seems to alter my feelings toward the couple and their feelings toward each other in subsequent writing.

    Now there's heat between them. I know it, they know it...hopefully the reader will know it too. Their love story starts to really catch fire after I've written that scene, and of course deleted it, or subbed a closed door or an embrace and heated kissing.

    But that kind of free writing does help me find their reaction to each other.

    And I think it comes through in the book, even with out the love scene on the page.

  11. Hi Camy:

    In advertising we called ‘freewriting’, ’free association’ and use it to break through writer’s block. Copywriters face writer’s block all the time. Just imagine having to write your 400th recliner ad and the client wants something fresh, exciting, and with lots of selling power.

    Here’s a tip for starting a book from the advertising world you might find interesting. Write an advertisement for the book that is so powerful you could not avoid buying it. Keep editing the ad to make it as powerful and compelling as possible. When you have the perfect ad, go ahead and write the book the ad describes. Reread the ad often to stimulate the creative juices.

    When I was writing a lot of copy, there was a self-help publisher who offered to pay a bonus and royalties to any copywriter who could write a blockbuster ad for any non-existent self-help book. After reading the ad and testing it successfully, in a small target market, the publisher would order the book written by one of his staff writers. Another benefit of this 'ad-first' process is that the advertisement you wrote could almost serve as your synopsis. This process provides a different POV and that often helps the creative process.

    BTW, while we are on the topic of ‘freewriting’ or ‘free association’ can you tell me why you named the health spa in “Deadly Intent“ – “The Joy Luck Spa’? Every time I read these words (and it was often) I had visions of Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club” ! I could even see the book cover in my mind’s eye and this yanked me out of the story. I’m just curious. Great book otherwise.


  12. Hi Camy,

    I've never heard of free writing before, but it sounds GREAT. I will definitely give it a try!

    Thanks for the suggestion.


  13. Camy,

    As a pantser writer myself, I can relate to Julie and the other SOTPs. When I sit down to write, if I just let my mind go and not worry about all the other details of the whats and wheres and whys, if I forget the rules, I can get lost and write several pages.

    If I worry to much about the details, mercy, that's when I get a nice brain freeze, but after I've written that first crazy draft, usually with pencil on college ruled paper (my quirk) I can go back and define the details and things better.

  14. I've seen this plotting board in person and was intrigued by it then. It's really neat to have you run us through your plotting process, Camy!

    Great post.


  15. I discovered free writing in my first online writing class. It allowed me to open the door of my mind and leave it open instead of slamming it shut after a sentence or two.

  16. Camy--You're so right about the value of spilling out scenes and getting the characters firmly in your head before adding logic, especially. Once you fall in love with a story, it's easier to stick through all that research and reworking.

    I do my free writing in my head whenever I close the nursery door to feed my 10-month-old or in the middle of the night when I wake up and the whole house is quiet (doesn't happen in the day). My eyes hurt too much to turn on the laptop, but by morning when everyone's up and I'm on my second cup of black tea, my ideas start to flow from my brain to my fingers.

    Mary--I totally do the steamy scenes, too, in my head when I'm working on a convenient marriage plot. Then I think--how can I write the scene so the passion is there but it's honoring to the Lord whenever someone reads it?

    Katie--an angry character? Oh, yeah, that's an awesome way to get the creativity flowing. Usually I have to twist the conversation several ways until it fits logically, but imagining the scene over and over certainly isn't a problem when I love the characters. :)

    Julie--Here's a hug to you. A Passion Most Pure is keeping me awake at night. Your style of entwining passionate scenes with Biblical lessons is delightful. So many people wouldn't listen to truth any other way. You have a significant ministry, my friend. I know the Lord will drop those 'free-style' pieces in place for the scenes to flow in this next series too.

    May the Lord inspire all of us as we brain storm and write for Him!

  17. Camy, I also free write whenever my muse moves me. It's lots of fun and surprizingly productive. It stops me from starting a new wip when I should finish the old one. I usually don't spend more than a day freewriting and I don't feel guilty!

  18. I got the biggest kick out of the closet door and sticky notes.

    I have to confess ... I doodle to get going. I do scenes of the story and sometimes sketch scenes where I am stuck.

    Sometimes that really helps.

    Unfortunately, a lot of that goes on when I should be doing something else, like listening to the sermon.

  19. Hi guys,
    Sorry I'm late! I got too busy this afternoon and then had writer's group meeting tonight at my house.

    Debby--I'd never heard that about Jennifer Crusie! That sounds like a great idea. Thanks!

    Julie--I can't imagine juggling FOURTEEN PEOPLE!!!

    Melanie, definitely try it and tell us if it helps or not!

    Sherrinda, that's a good point--the freewriting is rather therapeutic for me.

    Katie--that's a fantastic exercise! I totally have to try that!

    Candee--lots of time to brainstorm! You might even want to consider taking a small voice recorder to blurt out any ideas.

    Edna--thanks, you sweetheart!

    Janet, freewriting might not work for everybody, but it certainly helped me with this next book. Each book is so different!

    Mary! You naughty girl! ;)

    Vince--I can see how free association would be helpful with your 400th recliner! I named the spa the Joy Luck spa because of the association with Amy Tan's book, since the spa is owned and operated by a family with Asian ties, and the spa has an Asian theme. I'm sorry if it took you out of the story. My editor actually liked that name.

    Sue--definitely try it! It's fun!

    Tina, what you describe sounds a lot like other writers I know! I've never been able to write well just from the seat of the pants, so this freewriting thing was really neat for me to do!

    Thanks, Cheryl! I know it's kind of similar to when you plotstorm an initial story.

    Shaddy--that's great! I didn't know much about freewriting until I'd read that book.

    Ayrian--good point! I personally dislike research, so I need to really love my story to suffer through that!

    Cara--that's a great idea! A lot of times I'll want to start on a new story. I should just freewrite it instead to "take the edge off"! LOL

    Ann--glad you like the closet doors! LOL Doodling sometimes works for me, too...and usually during a sermon! Doh!


  20. Hey Camy, I thought that was you that I got that idea from last year. I don't use post its because they fall off. My current WIP is the first one I have done with the story board. I glued cork to the back of an old door and then wrote out all my ideas on index cards and then stapled them to the door. Later, as I plotted it (my previous WIPs were pantsers I went to the story board. Thanks! Carre

  21. Carrie, that's a great idea!

    What I forgot to mention about my closet doors is that I put shelf liner on them so the Post-Its would stick better. I had to try three different shelf liners before I found one that was tacky and would make the Post-Its stick rather than fall off.

    I've also heard of people using index cards on the carpet, Post-Its on a glass window or sliding glass door, and a plain wallpapered wall that was sticky enough for the Post-Its to stick to.