Free writing is probably the most common and talked up strategy for getting your writing going.
Free writing is when you write continuously without stopping. It is often used in conjunction with a timer – the pomodoro.
Free writing is used to generate ideas, to unstick a problem, to discover new perspectives. But free writing is often advocated for hesitant writers who feel anxious – at the start of a project, in the middle and at the end. Free writing produces a great deal of material in a very short space of time and the unexpected quantity of stuff helps the nervous writer to get over the I have nothing to say or I can’t write anything feelings.
However the strength of free writing – you can write loads of stuff in very little time – can also be a problem. That’s because once you have generated all that material you then need to read it and sort out the point you want to make. You need to sift for the useful and the interesting, and then jettison the unusable words. You have to climb the daunting post-pomodoro word mountain.
But you may not want, at the end of a session of generative free writing, to then turn around and revise. What then?
One solution is to use the looping technique. Looping? Yes.
Looping alternates free writing with periods of reflection and analysis. It’s a write -reflect- write – reflect pattern of activity. And the term looping is used because each new pomodoro moves you forward. You write after you have done some reflection and analysis.
So how does it work? Well it’s pretty simple and it goes like this.
Establish what you are going to write about – a broad theme or topic.
Write: Free write for five to fifteen minutes on your chosen topic.
Reflect. Read what you have written. Analyse. Look for the key idea, the most interesting thought, the richest detail, the most intriguing or compelling issue. Your goal is to identify the ‘core’ in the text you have generated. Write a sentence that sums up this core – it might be in the form of a question that demands an answer. Make this summary a pithy statement, succinct and punchy, perhaps even crunchy.
Write. Use your summary sentence as your starting point.
Reflect. Read what you have written. Analyse. Look for the key idea, the most interesting thought, the richest detail, the most intriguing or compelling issue. Your goal is to identify the core in the text you have generated. Write a sentence that sums up this core – it might be in the form of a question that demands an answer. Make this summary a pith and nut statement, succinct and punchy, perhaps even crunchy.
Rinse and repeat until you’ve had enough, until you’ve got enough words to be going on with.
If you have the energy, you may like to conclude your looping session by reading through all of the loops again and marking any ideas that you didn’t explore that are still worthy of following through. Note – this is not a concluding comprehensive revision, but a quick sorting out of where you might start with another free writing stint.
Looping does not lead neatly to a first draft, but it does systematise and progress your thinking through free writing. It is important to see looping as a process of invention. It’s not about producing grammatically correct or elegant prose. Looping is a process for discovering what you think and what it might be possible to say.
Looping can lead to surprising insights, images, fragments of phrases and terms that you can then develop further. Looping doesn’t pre-determine where the writing will go, but it does produce a line of thinking and writing that might form the basis of a more considered exploration.
And – bonus – it’s pretty easy to match time and task here – you can fit a loop into a little bit of time, and come back to the next loop using your statement sentence when you have the next moment.
My understanding of looping is adapted from Lisa Ede’s 1989 book Work in progress. A guide to academic writing and revising.