One of my favorite quotes about writing/composition is,
“We write to know about that which we know”
– Grace Paley
By writing down the stuff that you have in your mind, you bring some structure in to your thought process and this structure in turn helps you think better.
Most of the times there is an internal editor in our mind which kind of censors our thoughts in forming connections. As everyone knows, the best ideas usually arise by combining themes from seemingly diverse fields. I guess this internal editor hinders us from connecting stuff unless we overwhelm it with some kind of constraint / create a situation where its power becomes shallow. There are many ways to escape from this internal editor.Is it any wonder that some of the best ideas we get are when we are away from work ,be it traveling/ running / playing some sport/ relaxing and thinking freely outside of our work / debating about something with a friend, etc. Internal editor is damn good when we are planning to execute stuff. But to ideate, I guess one must seek activities that are far removed from the work context. What does this book say ? Well firstly, something about the title. The author is a positioning consultant and no wonder the title smells like a marketing ploy. The book is about writing and a particular form of writing called FREEWRITING. What is freewriting ? Freewriting is a certain style of writing that we can use to get all our random/chaotic/semi-structured/exploratory thoughts on paper without our internal editor coming in our way.
The first time I came across this kind of tool was in the context of teaching math to sophomores. During my brief stint as an adjunct faculty, I realized that senior members in the faculty had adopted “writing” in mathematics as a way to teach stuff better. One of the senior lecturers was preparing an assignment for the class with no problems/no equations to solve / nothing to calculate.I was little surprised. I mean, I was used to solving problems in math or may be writing theorems to understand them better. “Writing” in math never meant anything beyond that, until I came to realize that it is a very powerful technique. One of the techniques the faculty was using was “freewriting”. Anyways coming back to the intent of the post, i.e to give a brief summary , the book would appeal to people who write to think. The book motivates a reader to adopt freewriting style to generate ideas. The author is of the staunch belief that freewriting done by following certain principles will help one understand things better / help one explore new ideas . He says
As expansive and impressive as the mind is, it’s also lazy. Left to its own devices, it recycles tired thoughts, takes rutted paths, and steers clear of unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. You could say that one of its primary jobs is to shut off, even when there’s important thinking to be done.
Freewriting prevents that from happening. It pushes the brain to think longer, deeper, and more unconventionally than it normally would. By giving yourself a handful of liberating freewriting rules to follow, you back your mind into a corner where it can’t help but come up with new thoughts. You could call freewriting a form of forced creativity.
The author states 6 guidelines for freewriting. They are :
Try Easy: A relaxed 90% is more efficient than a vein-bulging 100 percent effort. Hence it is important to have this “Try easy “ mindset before one sets to write
Write fast and continuously: The main outcome of this writing is to flush out the thoughts from the subconscious mind and until you really write fast, the logical and rational mind will try to come in between and that defeats the purpose.
Work against a time limit: Set a timer and get in to freewriting mode. The limit energizes your writing effort by giving you parameters
Write as you think: This becomes important in freewriting as the writing is supposed to help you and writing as you speak is not that useful. You ought to write as you think
Go with your thought: More on the lines of improv wisdom where you keep writing stuff and follow the thoughts as they appear in your writing.
Redirect your attention: Focus changers help one to redirect the mind to unexplored parts of a situation. A sample list of focus changers are mentioned in the book which can be kept at the back of your mind in your freewriting exercise.
Around these core principles, the book suggests 15 different ideas to refine and improve freewriting ability. The author encourages writing as a mode of thinking. Freethinking is a little different from freewriting where you might get carried away and start thinking about something that is completely different from the initial idea. This in itself is nothing to be worried about. However freethinking is like a rudderless ship. Freewriting on the other hand makes you come back to the central topic of writing after a few digressions. Also the very fact that you have everything written down makes the write-up a fantastic playground to mine for new ideas.