I wasn’t dressed for dancing, but that didn’t stop me. I threw myself into it like an Uncle at a wedding. The music was Northern Soul and the venue was a corridor of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD). I was there to speak to a group of design students at the launch of the ‘21st Century Designer’ module.
The truth is, I could have rocked up half an hour before my speaking slot at 4 pm. But I decided it would be much better to join the 75 students for the whole of the afternoon session. It would help me understand more about the module, the students and DJCAD. Oh yes, and of course, I’d get the opportunity to try my hand at Northern Soul dancing, which was being used to kick-off the afternoon and demonstrate what an icebreaker was.
My dancing was mostly horrendous. But, it was fun. I listened to the incredibly talented and enthusiastic Linsay Duncan as she taught us some basic Northern Soul steps. I came into my own though when I was free to combine the moves into my own interpretation at the end. I spun, jived and high kicked myself towards an early grave. Beads of sweat raced down my back before losing themselves in the abyss that is my arse. Good times.
But, the message Linsay delivered, was a message I’d be sharing later as well. It’s OK to do it your way, it’s OK to be free to express yourself and, something I definitely believe – don’t hold back, let go and have fun.
The aim of my short talk was to help the students with a component of the module. What I wanted to do was inspire them to write and give them more confidence to write with freedom. They need to maintain a blog or journal that documents their progress through the course. I was advised that some of them would find that challenging.
But, to be honest, I think everyone that is asked to write with intent, with a clear purpose, finds it challenging. I know I did. I started with the story of how I used to really struggle with the fear of the blank page. It’s funny, some people assume that I can just write about anything at any time. I can’t. I’ve developed my own writing habit and process to help me be a more efficient writer.
The key for me is starting with an outline. It’s what’s helped me tackle any writing project with confidence. Sometimes, though, even coming up with an outline can be a challenge. I’ve experienced that a couple of times recently and, I know it’s an area where some of my clients have struggled. I did what I always do when I come up with a writing challenge, I find another way. My other way was free writing.
It’s not a new concept to me. I’d been aware of it for a number of years after my good friend Alan shared a workbook from his Creative Writing course. That was years ago, and while I was aware of it, I’d never put free writing into practice.
Freewriting is a technique often used as a cure for writer’s block. In creative writing circles, it’s also used as a warm-up exercise so that your writing muscles are ready to go when you’re about to tackle a writing project. I used it for the first time last week. I used it firstly to write a first-draft of a personal story I’ve wanted to share for a while. And, while on a train to Edinburgh, I used freewriting to capture my thoughts on a new coaching programme I’m about to launch. In both cases, it worked.
It’s quite a simple process really. You start with a title or a subject at the top of the page and then just write continuously for ten minutes. You aren’t allowed to stop. Even if you end up writing gibberish or a shopping list – it doesn’t matter. The number one rule of the freewriting game is to just keep on writing. Freewriting is often referred to as stream of consciousness writing for that reason. You just write what comes into your head.
Once the ten minutes is up, stop. I usually finish the sentence I’m writing, so it might end up being 10 minutes and 10 seconds, but I’m OK with that. I’d hate to lose one good idea. Once you’ve finished your freewriting, it’s time to grab a highlighter pen and find any interesting words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs. You’re looking for nuggets of gold that you can use to get you started.
In my personal story example, what I produced in ten-minutes turned out to be a decent first draft. In fact, it’s the quickest first draft I’ve ever created. It felt good to read it back. It was a different story for the coaching programme freewriting session. What I produced in the ten-minutes wasn’t so rounded, but it did contain some key phrases that will make it into the final document. It also gave me the outline that I needed. The experiences were entirely different, but they both worked.
At the last minute, I added the concept of freewriting to my DJCAD talk. I’ll now include it in more of my talks and it will become a key element of my storytelling and content marketing coaching. I’m convinced that what stops us telling more stories or sharing more content is our inability to start. We’re paralysed by the fear of the blank page and the fear of not knowing where we’re going.
Next time you’re starting a writing project, why not give freewriting a go? Or, if you’re stuck with a communications challenge, why not kick start with a ten-minute freewriting exercise. It might not work for you, but it’s definitely now part of my writing tool belt. It’s another technique to help me get over the fear of the blank page and to give me more confidence.
Here are the steps I take.
That’s the process that works for me. You might prefer to type your freewriting session rather than writing, that’s OK – but I would recommend that you at least try it with a notebook once to see what works best for you.
If you’re a content marketer, entrepreneur or business owner use freewriting to create quick ugly first drafts of your content. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop waiting for inspiration to strike you. Just write that first draft. Or, if you want to create an outline, use freewriting as your opportunity to capture the important themes and building blocks for your next piece of epic content.
And, if you’re a student, especially from DJCAD or Abertay, where I’ve also worked recently, use freewriting to give yourself permission to get started. Use it as a way to dismiss the ‘I work better under pressure’ myth. Use it as a way to express what you feel and what you think. And, finally – use it as a way to be free.
And, if you just want to write for yourself and tell your own stories or share your own thoughts why not use some of the writing prompts below to get you started.
And, if you’re in a sharing mood, feel free to post your results in the comments. Be really interested to see if freewriting works for you.
Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go and work on my dance moves. Video evidence has emerged revealing that I’m not quite the Fred Astaire I thought I was. On closer inspection, I resemble an obese Hippopotamus midway through a rather extreme convulsion. Still, we’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?
I'm a storyteller, case study specialist and the founder of The Story Edge. I want more people to tell more stories. I write stories, teach people to do the same and generally encourage people to use storytelling in their business.