Posted by: mew | December 3, 2009

freewrite prompt no. 1

Dedicated to that friend of mine who keeps putting off writing the novel she’s got inside her…

For the first freewrite, I’d like to make it fairly easy if you’ve never done it before, and so I chose a prompt I think of as a classic.  Because of the nature of the prompt, this is considered a guided freewrite; that is, you’ll take the prompt as a guide and use it over and over as a foundation for your sentences — if you like.  There are really no hard and fast rules for a freewrite, other than to keep the pen moving for the time you’ve chosen to write.

Here’s the prompt:

I know…

I don’t know…

I know about the garden... and I know I don't know much about the garden.

And here’s what I plan to do with the prompt, to give you a sense of the procedure.  Remember, yours may vary — and that’s fine.

I’ll get a notebook and one of my favorite pens, set the timer on the microwave to sound in 11 minutes (10 minutes writing plus 1 minute to run back into the den and settle on the couch), and then start the first sentence.  “I know…” and then I’ll fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, and sometimes, if I get going really fast, it’ll seem like words are just spurting out of the pen and bypassing the mind completely.  (I love it when this happens, because I can get to some really intuitive, leaping ideas that I wouldn’t be able to reach normally.)

If I can’t think of anything I know, or of how to fill in the rest of the sentence, I can always write, “I know nothing,” or “I know I don’t know what to write,” or “I know I’m feeling blocked,” or “I know that I’m scared to try this the first time,” or “I know I hate this topic, and this is what I really want to write about,” or simply write, “I know, I know, I know, I know,” ad infinitum, if necessary, until not just the ink but the ideas start to flow.  The point is to keep the pen moving.

Why keep the pen moving?

Because so often we’ve been trained, in English composition class or otherwise, to second guess our creative thoughts.  We might want to write one thing, but the editor voice, or critic, is already pouncing all over our fledgling idea before it even has a chance to get onto the page.  The notebook page stays blank, the idea simmers inside until the editor finally kills it with cerebration, and we feel frustrated and like we just aren’t creative or clever or talented enough to write.

(Or whatever other excuses our egos have been accepting.  I’ve lately come to realize a lot of my creative energy has gone into developing an absolutely brilliant internal critic.  While it’s frustrating to realize, it’s just that much more motivation not to turn my creative energies inward anymore.)

After 10 minutes of writing on “I know,” you may take a little break and write 10 minutes of “I don’t know,” just for contrast.  But think of that like extra credit.  If 10 minutes is all you can spare, that’s fine.  But writing the underside of what you’ve just explored in the first freewrite sometimes helps to stretch your writing muscle in unexpected ways.  I often find that I delve more easily into the second freewrite in a session (or third or fourth).  I suppose it’s like when I dance, and the first moves of the warm up are not going to feel that fluid and beautiful as the actual dancing after my muscles are primed and ready.

And… time’s up!

When the timer sounds, if I’m in mid-sentence, I’ll definitely finish my sentence.  This is not a test.  No prof is there to tell us to put our pencils down.  (Well, there’s a would-be prof at my house, but if he ever tells me anything about writing, it’s to do more of it, not less!)

If I’ve hit a wonderful groove, where the writing is just flowing, and I have the time, I might keep going.  Some proponents of freewriting argue against this, because if you’ve made 20 minutes for writing in a very busy day, and then you end up spending an hour, the next time you may tell yourself you don’t have the time to write — most of us don’t have a whole, uninterrupted hour just lying around every day — and get discouraged before you start.  So if that description sounds at all plausible to you, just gently bring your sentence to a close and stop, groove or no groove.

One of the lessons of freewriting practice is that there is always plenty more writing within you, waiting to be tapped.  (I suspect this is because the source of creativity is endless and available to all of us all the time.  You may come to your own conclusions.)

Keep in mind that you may go waaaaay off topic, and that’s totally fine.  Freewriting prompts aren’t true topics in the way we normally think of that word, i.e. for composition class.  That first, or second, or third “I know…” may just be a jumping off point for you, a springboard that sends you into the depths of a long-ago memory or a tirade about something that’s been crowding your mind lately.  Let it come.  Let whatever wants to flow through your pen spill onto the page.

Please don’t use my handwriting as a guide or let it bring out your inner critic in any way.  My writing partner, when we used to meet for weekly freewrites, was slightly intimidated by my handwriting, because her handwriting would get larger and more dramatic and sometimes less legible as she got into the process.  Since I was a child, people have said I write like a typewriter, and that’s just how it looks without me consciously trying to be neat.  Sometimes my letters get a little more wobbly if I’m really writing fast.

Remember, I’m a recovering perfectionist.  Neat is not part of this exercise.  In fact, we want the opposite — you want to feel like you’re flying, or coasting downhill, and if you have so-called “messy” handwriting, revel in it.  When you reread your freewrite, focus on how luscious and full of personality your very handwriting is, before you even get to the words.  (This penmanship personality is precisely why I hate being compared to a typewriter.)

And yes, you should do the freewrite by hand, unless you have some physical limitation that makes a keyboard or a tape recorder necessary.  We can talk about why later, if it really bothers anyone.  For now, just be glad the craft of writing is so low-tech that all any of us really needs is a sheet of paper and a pen to get started.  For many of the greats of literature, that’s all they ever had.

Low tech can be really, really lovely.

Guidelines for sharing the freewrite:

I encourage anyone who is so inclined to put a link in the comments back to your own freewrite post, and if you don’t have a blog, you can e-mail me your response, and I might post it for others to read.  If I can figure out how to do Mr. Linky on wordpress, I may do that.  (Advice welcome!)

Freewrite etiquette is a little different than for a regular writing group.  Because a freewrite is not a finished piece of writing, or even a carefully crafted second draft, we won’t be critiquing each other’s work.  When I wrote with a partner, we always listened attentively to each other’s reading, and then we’d simply say “Thank you.”  It gave a solemnity and gentleness to the process that was a welcome relief from the standard writing workshop, and knowing I was not going to be required to come up with a particular response allowed me to develop my listening skills.

You can expand upon this theme, gratitude for another writer/human being’s sharing of what is essentially a stream of consciousness in which we are all universally participating, or you may make specific positive comments, e.g. that scene with the egg timer really got my attention, what a beautiful description of the blade sharpening ritual, I laughed out loud when he dropped that cage, et cetera.  You could also just say thank you.  It’s a classic.

We’ll go over a few more details in the next prompt, but for now, I release you to the joys of the blank page.

What do you know?



  1. Ooh, I am really going to try to do this.

    (Your handwriting does look like a font.) 😀

    • I’m glad you’re going to try it, Linnea.

      A font! You make me laugh. 🙂

  2. This is very interesting to me, Meredith. I’m rushing about right now preparing for my exhibit, but when the dust settles I would like to try this. I used to love writing, have read and participated in classes about The Artists Way, but somehow am always too busy now to put pen to paper.
    Your handwriting is super precise!
    I, too, am a recovering perfectionist, but my handwriting never recovered from frantic note taking in college!!

    • I hope you’ll get a chance to try it, Judy. It doesn’t even have to be this week. 🙂 This is not just a low pressure exercise, but a no pressure one, and you’ve got a lot on you with your upcoming exhibit. Why not join in next week?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. oh this is wonderful! my 15 year old brother just did young writers nanowrimo, it was hard but he loved it! when ive got some time id love to try this!
    lovely thoughts

    • Thank you, chenoa 🙂 Join in anytime!

  4. Hello Meredith,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving me a message!

    This is my first visit at your creative blog, and I love the space you’ve created here! This freewrite prompt is a great idea and I look forward to delving deeper into your writings online!

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Kate. I enjoyed visiting your blog, too! 🙂

  5. ok. sounds good to me. i will get back to you after the weekend to let you know how it goes. 🙂

    • Cool, elsa. I hope to post my response sometime this weekend — or will try to, at least. 😉

  6. What a great way to get unstuck. Will share this with my husband who tries to write something every day.

    • Thanks, liberality. Sounds like your husband is cultivating a great habit 🙂

  7. Thank you for your response in my blog. I was not having a good day yesterday and it meant a lot to read that.

    • I’m so glad, Linnea. We all have days like that sometimes; friends and friendly words are invaluable at those moments 🙂

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