by Niall Doherty

This post is mostly for writers and other creative types. I’ve been applying the hyperclocking concept to my writing recently, to great effect.

Here’s what I do every morning: I sit down at my computer, open up a blank post in WordPress, start a countdown timer at 20 minutes, and then try to push 1,000 words out of my brain and onto the screen before the clock hits zeroes.

Some folks call this exercise free writing. The idea is to forget about editing and simply write whatever you’re thinking, stream of consciousness style. Anything goes.

The benefits

It’s amazing what jogs loose in your mind when you do this free writing thing. I’ve come up with a bunch of great articles because of it in recent weeks. Even on days when I feel completely uninspired and would rather not write, I come away from my little mind dump sessions with some promising seeds.

For example, I’ve been working on the email series for A Course In Courage. I made a promise that course participants would receive at least a dozen exclusive articles on fear and courage, the freshness delivered to their inbox once every two days after signing up. Part of me wasn’t sure I could write a dozen articles all on that same subject. And if I was still trying to write them the traditional way (editing as I go), I’d be in serious trouble by now. But, thanks to the free writing exercises, I find myself flowing through the series and easily coming up with new ideas and angles to write about.

The other big benefit is that the practice only takes twenty minutes. Not a huge commitment. You can easily do twenty minutes each morning, no big deal. I put in my twenty before breakfast, then head downstairs singing, ready for my porridge and the NBA’s top ten plays of the day.

3 tips for better free writing

Free writing isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s taken me a while to get the hang of it. Here are a few things that might help you get into it…

1. Use a timer and a word count

You can free write without a countdown timer or a word count, but I find both of those things help me immensely. It’s good to give yourself a sense of time pressure so you keep writing as fast as possible, and having the word count in front of you lets you know if you’re on target. I use the countdown timer on my iPhone, and I type directly into WordPress which provides a live word count.

Set little milestones with the word count. Be at 250 words when you see 15 minutes, then 500/10, then 750/5. Make sure you can keep on track and pick up the pace a little if you need to. If you find yourself way ahead of schedule, don’t slow down. Just reduce the amount of time you allow yourself next time, or else give yourself a bigger word count to aim for in the twenty minutes.

I’ve actually cut down to eighteen minutes lately. Eventually I’d like to be able to get down ten minutes, but I’ll need to improve my typing speed for that. Ideally you should be able to type as fast as you think, so you’re not waiting for your fingers to catch up with your thoughts.

2. Never edit

When free writing, you must resist editing yourself. If you’re a perfectionist like me, this is very difficult at first. You want to go back and add that apostrophe or clean up that typo. But over time you learn to let go. The details aren’t important. Nobody else has to see your mind dump. And you’ll be able to decipher the typos no problem. The ideas are what you’re really after, and you have to let go and unleash the flow to find the best ideas hidden away inside you.

Below is an example of a paragraph that came out of me while free writing last week. I was trying to decide on a name for my resistance (you remember Frank, right?).

I should call my resistance something. Let’s call it Howard, no Jimmi, no Fred, no Tws, no Buou, no safhs, no Qes, no Wes, no Gye, no Frx, no Frank. no Vincent. Yeah. No. it doesn’t fucking matter what I call it. I’ll think of somethin. Maybe Don. Yeah, Don. No, fick that.

Not a paragraph I’m proud of, but I post it here to show what kind of crap you sometimes have to unleash before you get to the good stuff. Don’t edit any of that drivel. Just let it be.

3. Don’t stop to think

Instead, think in your writing. Write that you’re not sure what it was that you were going to write next, or that you must remember to pick up that loaf of bread later. Put it all down. Allow yourself to go off on tangents. You don’t even have to come back. There are no right or wrong words, no censorship.

If you run into a road block and can’t think of anything to write about, write about the nothingness. Start describing your environment. Write about the dream you probably had last night but since forgot. Whatever. Just don’t stop. Less thinking, more writing.

The cutting room

I come back to my 1,000 words in the afternoon and begin editing. That usually takes a lot longer than twenty minutes. I cut out a whole bunch of paragraphs, add to some, rewrite a few more. I might rearrange a few things, add some links, headings and pictures.

Free writing is fast and fun. The editing is more like grunt work. But of course it has to be done. Nobody wants to read your uncensored mind dump 😛

Try this

Try it and let me know if free writing works for you. If you’ve done it before, tell me about your experience. I don’t believe you need to be a blogger or have some kind of audience to benefit from free writing. You could get a lot from journaling this way, too.

If you’re some other type of creative/artist, apply the same hyperclocking concept to your work. As a painter you could try to fill a whole canvas in twenty minutes. As a musician you could try to write and record a song in an hour.

Now, for gits and shiggles, try free writing your comment below. Aim for about 50 words a minute. I’ll forgive you any typos 😉