Teagan Kearney/G.N. Kearney: Writer: ACCESSING IDEAS: FREEWRITING


Writers need ideas. Even when we’re busy expanding one idea into a short story, poem or novel, there’s a little part of our brains looking ahead to what we’ll do next. Generating ideas is a natural course of action for writers, and they can be sparked by almost anything, but even the most creative people sometimes can get a little stuck.

Freewriting is a way to tap into your creativity by putting aside any expectations and simply letting ideas flow.

Named by Ken Macrone, freewriting was widely used by Peter Elbow, (Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts) who wrote a number of influential books about writing. Simply put, the method involves being given a prompt word or phrase and then writing down the first words or phrases which spring to mind - without stopping to think or bother about spelling, grammar, syntax etc.

The following method was developed by Lusser Rico in her book, Writing the Natural Way, and is taught on a number of writing courses.

Step 1: Clustering
Clustering is a way of visually ordering your instinctive responses to a prompt in the form of a spider diagram.Taking a clean page, write your prompt word in the centre and, using arrows or lines to connect with the prompt, write down any word which springs to mind. (In the diagram below you can see I started off with five words - but you can put as many as you want.)

The next step is to take one of the words you’ve written down around your centre prompt and continue to free associate until you run out of words. Then repeat this process until your page is covered with words and lines radiating out from the centre like a spider’s web. If at any point an image or memory is sparked by the prompt, run with it.  If one of those words takes you off at a tangent, you go with it and follow where that leads. 
The advice is generally to spend three to five minutes on a cluster. You may never use, or be interested in much of what you put down but you may find you have the glimmerings of an idea, or even the template for a story or poem. Don't worry - clustering is not the end product – it’s a way in.

Step 2: The Focussed Freewrite
This is a more conscious  step as you choose subject matter which stems from anything in the cluster that appeals to you. Don’t edit or try to be coherent – that’s not the aim – the aim is to access your subconscious. Depending on your own particular style of writing, a freewrite can read like a stream of consciousness or be more organized. I was once advised by a tutor not to edit my freewrites; all I could do was protest that I hadn’t. What was on the page was exactly how it came out!

Spend five to ten minutes on the focused freewrite – although there are no rules here. If you find yourself with the beginnings of a short story or poem, run with it because finding inspiration is your purpose with this activity. 

Here’s the freewrite I developed out of the above cluster:
Jenny shivered in the doorway squeezing herself into the shadows. Thunder. She started to count. One and two and... Lightning forked across the sky. The heart of the storm was two miles away. She tensed as she thought she heard his footsteps, but it was only the loud thump thump of her own heart.

I have tightened this a tad – was unable to help myself knowing others would read it, but not a lot and I can see some potential for development as a thriller of some kind, maybe a teenage runaway or a supernatural tale or whatever.

Generally no one but you reads your freewrites. You can keep a file of any freewrites you might want to develop further – they make a great resource.

Prompt Words
Some people prefer concrete objects (tea, dress, boots, bank, bankrupt) others prefer emotions or themes (love, conflict, friendship, happy, sad etc.).  A few summers ago I was doing daily freewrites and got stuck for prompts so I’d open the dictionary and without looking down, stab downwards with my finger picking a random word. I ended up with some very odd prompts!

Writing Update
Editing the nano novel is chugging along, blog is getting written, managing to Tweet, still struggling with social media demands although I will persevere! Other resolutions – need to up my techno skills as I want to add links and stuff...

Today’s Haiku:
Moroccan Berbers
lay their carpets in the snow -
annual cleansing

Adrianna Joleigh, a kind and generous co-member of the Support a Writer Google+ community, is hosting Teakan K’s Writing Surgery where I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about your own writing or writing in general. 
Send your writing queries to:
Answers will be posted as soon as possible – I promise - on:

Check out the lovely Adrianna's site:

If you don’t already receive Randy Ingerson’s ezine, I’d advise you to do so. He gives great information on planning (Snowflake method), writing (The Perfect Scene) and marketing (current article on how to verify your copyright on Google+). His latest newsletter has really saved me from my lack of time management with his article on organization. He’s hit the nail on the head for me as far as this topic goes. 
Here’s the link to Randy’s newsletter – they’re free. Scroll down the page to find the latest ezine.

Reading Recommendations:
Gold Dragon Haiku by Teagan Kearney - my own book of traditional and modern haiku.   
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.


  1. I love free writing. I often feel the need every now and again to flex this particular writing muscle just so the skill stays fresh. You can really be surprised at what you're capable of producing. I've never tried clustering before, though, so I'll add that in to my next free-writing foray.

  2. Yes, Peter, I totally agree, freewriting is a muscle that needs to be exercised as ideas are our most important resource. I'm editing at the moment and freewriting is such a release - it doesn't matter what you put down and no one sees it - it really frees you up.
    Hope you enjoy the clustering!


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