What Is F-r-e-e-Writing?

F-r-e-e-writing is writing fast, raw and exact-but-easy, a simple writing method with transformative effects on creative capacity and flow.

It is no coincidence that both Jo and Norah in After The Rising and and Mercy in Blue Mercy write their way to resolution.  This is my small tribute to the power of writing to heal and liberate.

Writing is such a miracle – through marks on a page, we can communicate across vast continents and dead generations – but like all the everyday miracles, we tend to take it for granted.

Writing is the uniquely human experience.  Dolphins, birds and other species can communicate but only we can write.  It is also the human achievement that (literally) underwrites all the others – without it there would be no mathematics, no science, no philosophy, no history, no cinema.  And, of course, no literature.

Equally miraculous, I believe, is the power writing gives us to deepen our communication with, and understanding of, ourselves.

My interest in this has led me to the technique I call F-r-e-e-Writing. 


How To F-r-e-e-Write: A Guide

This simple writing method is a key to emotional health, spiritual awakening and creative breakthrough — not to mention better writing.  It has made such a difference in my own life that it is now my daily practice.  And I have seen it make such a difference in other lives that I now pass it on whenever I can.

F-R-E-E stands for writing Fast, Raw and Exact-But-Easy (See F-R-E-E-Writing Tutorial).

Using this method the aim is to write fast enough, for a set period of time or number of pages, to get beyond our censoring, conscious minds and access subconscious levels.

I’ve introduced this easy writing method to writers and other artists and emerging artists but also to postgraduate students and returners-to-work, to immigrant groups and women recovering from drug addiction.

I’ve witnessed its benefits among people from different countries and at every level of social and personal development, even those with weak literacy skills.  That’s why I can teach the same simple technique, over and over, without ever tiring of it.

The more I teach it, and hear the stories of lives transformed by it, the more my respect for the complex potential of this simple technique grows and deepens.

I’ve come to see f-r-e-e-Writing not as a luxury for those with the time to do it but a simple, significant shortcut to physical, emotional, spiritual and creative wellbeing.

A daily brushing of the psyche, that takes a little bit longer – though not much – than a good brushing and flossing of the teeth.

I have come to believe that everybody who can be, should be, f-r-e-e-Writing.

Advantages of F-r-e-e-Writing For Creatives & Creativists

This is especially true for those who want to consciously create: writers and composers and filmakers and artists of all kinds; and also creativists, those who bring conscious creation to work, money, relationships or other experiences we don’t usually dub “creative”.

  1. F-r-e-e-Writing clears. Sometimes, yes, we may be overwrought in our F-r-e-e-Writing. Or whiny or irritable or sad or angry or miserable. Or joyful or elated or carefree or blissed out. Over time, all our emotions will find their way in and we come to see how transient they are.  Allowing all the “negative” emotions, ideas and feelings within us and giving them free vent in our notebooks, siphons them off. This greatly lessens their hold on us.  This is why some people see F-r-e-e-Writing as a form of meditation.
  2. F-r-e-e-Writing liberates.  We come to see that it is not the events that happen to us – as individuals or as artists – that count, so much as our inner relationship to those events. Regular F-r-e-e-Writing ensures we become a channel for the deep stuff rather than a mouthpiece for con-mind moans, sound-offs, rants or self-indulgences.  We acquire the distance that is a prerequisite of ease, freedom and flow, the defining qualities of the create-state.  
  3. F-r-e-e-Writing Stabilises.  Truly allowing all the voices inside diminishes the power of any one (I’m thinking of the inner critic).  Regular and committed use of F-r-e-e-Writing generates a progressive strengthening of the psyche.
  4. F-R-E-E-Writing inspires. As you F-r-e-e-Write, great ideas emerge, seemingly from nowhere.
  5. F-r-e-e-Writing empowers.  F-r-e-e-Writing teaches us to trust our own experience and interpretation of the world, essential to a conscious creator, together with the confidence to express what we truly feel and what we truly want to create.

F-r-e-e-writing is a simple writing method with transformative effects, the most direct being its value in beating block and fostering flow.

In life, not just in writing.

See www.ornaross.com/f-r-e-e-writing for more on its many proven benefits.

The best way to find out about its value, though, is not to read about it, but to do it. F-r-e-e-writing is a practice.

If you find you have consistent difficulty getting started with it, Dorothea Brande’s advice still holds, almost a hundred years after she wrote it: “Rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can — and without talking — write.”

Write Fast

Write as fast as you can. Keep your hand moving until you stop.

As you write, no thought or image should be welcomed because it is optimistic or positive, and no thought or image should be rejected because it is negative.

Don’t avoid the familiar or the boring or the petty. Keep going, through the boredom. Bleak and boring bits often produce the greatest insights when we f-r-e-e-write our way through.

Write about how you are boring yourself. Let the words tell you what the boredom is hiding. 

Or not. 

If you feel nothing in your mind, you can just describe your shoes, or write a word or phrase over and over (“nothing, nothing, nothing,” or “I hate this, I hate this”).

Other words will soon rise, they can’t help themselves. At this point in human development, our brains pump words like our lungs pump breath, like our hearts pump blood.

Fast doesn’t mean tense, anxious, or stressed. Decompress your jaw, relax your tongue, sit freely in the chair, breathe slowly, and let your feelings deepen and open. It’s fine to relax your muscles and to pause briefly, but don’t pause to reread what you’ve just written. That leads to stalling and attempting to control or refine first thoughts.

Instead, write a little faster. And when you find yourself slowing, write faster again.

Write without stopping until you have completed the time or page space you have allocated to the exercise.

Don’t think, just write.

Let the words flow. Lose control. Write f-r-e-e…

Write Raw

As you f-r-e-e-write, pay no attention whatever to style or expression. Just write the thoughts that arise, in your own, everyday language. Don’t worry about even basic standards for this f-r-e-e-writing. Forget all about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Freely accept made-up or meaningless words. 

From time to time, you will find thoughts rise in you that you don’t want to write, thoughts that feel frightening or silly or disgusting or pathetic, thoughts you wouldn’t want anybody else to know you have. Let them come, raw as they are. Get them out of you. Resist any urge to self-censor.

“First thoughts have tremendous energy,” says Natalie Goldberg in her great book, Writing Down The Bones. “It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we generally live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thoughts, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first, fresh flash… First thoughts are also unencumbered by ego, by that mechanism in us that tries to be in control.”

Don’t cross out or correct or try to edit anything, either as you write, or once it is written. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, let it stand. Explain to yourself how that’s not really what you meant. Refine the thought into new words. 

Don’t think, just write.

Let the words flow. Lose control. Write f-r-e-e…

Write Exact-And-Easy

Capture images in extreme detail in this, your first f-r-e-e-writing session. The more specific, the more intimate, the better.

A crack in a coffee mug. The way a lock of hair falls across the forehead of a child as he sits reading. The precise color of the street furniture. The vein pattern on your wrist. Get in close, describe the detail, then another. Follow the images. An image is always the deepest wellspring in writing.

Write exact-and-easy. Write free.

Take a sentence, then expand it. Say a little, or a lot, more. Be brave, tell the truth.

Tell your truth. Take the lens off yourself and gaze onto the wonders that are unfolding around you, the good and the bad.

Once you give yourself this instruction in advance of your writing session, to write exact-and-easy, you’ll find it happens automatically. It is a noticing process, a focusing in on what’s rising into our consciousness, so we can take it down.

It might be naming specific facts, that are concrete and specific, not generalized or fuzzy. Not “a fruit bowl” but “my favorite bowl, glazed blue china, piled high with peaches.” Not “the vegetables,” but “red peppers, long and thin as a pencil, and onions the size of tennis balls.” Not “a man,” but “a 35-year-old bricklayer.” Not “she sat there, looking depressed,” but “she sat at her desk, shoulders slumped, forefinger caressing the furrow between her eyes.” 

It might be that we need to bring in more than one sense, how it smells or tastes or feels to touch, we get closer. We get more exactness and understand how everyone’s life is at once both ordinary and extraordinary, how the trivial is  important, and the important, small and passing.

“The trees are beginning to turn color, green fading to oranges and browns. I can smell the end of summer, a sense of damp though it’s a sunny day. It won’t blaze with heat again this year. From now on, even when the sun shines, the air will hold the memory and promise of rain. Sunny but not-quite-hot days always remind me of September, and the taste of blackberries.

It might be a matter of internal detail, how we feel.

“It doesn’t matter,” you write. “I feel ok about it.”  But do you, actually? As you write on, you find something more, lurking beneath. “It’s not that I was annoyed at the time or anything, because I was quite happy sitting there reading my book, but turning up almost an hour late for the third time in a row… It doesn’t feel right.  Maybe she’s losing it again? Last time, she really hurt me.  Being late itself doesn’t matter, that’s true, but what it might mean does. I need to talk to her.”

Should we begin with the outer detail or the inner? With physical objects, or internal emotions? It doesn’t matter. To begin in the outer is to start in the surface and drill down. To begin with the inner — emotions, imaginings, intuitions — is to start in the depths and rise up. You end up in the same place, the empty space of not thinking, just writing.

So allow yourself to discover how you see your world. Play with what you find there, drop it onto the page.

When we’re exact-and-easy in our f-r-e-e-writing, our nouns and verbs are strong. A car chugs. A cat pounces. Clouds loom. Children skip. But as you write, don’t be afraid of using “inappropriate” words, or chastise yourself as you write for getting it “wrong”.

In f-r-e-e-writing, there is no such thing as wrong. All words belong. Nothing is censored. 

If you notice you have written something vague or generic like “flower”, just put something more exact in the next sentence. “A white camelia, in full bloom, about to burst and drop but now, holding on.”

Be gentle with yourself.  Take it easy.

And don’t aim for fine or for good. Aim for true. “If you say what’s on your mind in the language that comes to you from your parents and your street and friends,” said Grace Paley, “You’ll probably say something beautiful.” 

Don’t think, just write.

Let the words flow. Lose control. Write f-r-e-e…

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