Another technique for improving your writing you won’t want to do


Yesterday, I told you about a technique for improving your writing. I told you that I dramatically improved my writing by hand copying other people’s writing that I admired and wanted to emulate. Today, I want to share something else I did that elevated my writing to an even higher level.


Every morning without fail, I rolled out of bed, grabbed a spiral notebook and pen, and wrote for twenty minutes.

Some would call this journaling, but that implies that I had something to say that I wanted to capture on paper. Instead, what I did was “free write”.

There are two rules to free writing.

First rule: write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how silly or meaningless. Write gibberish if that’s what comes. Write, “I don’t know what to write,” if you don’t know what to write. Write a list of words that have no connection to each other, or write the same word over and over, until your mind coughs up something else.

Which leads to the second rule: don’t stop. Keep your hand moving for twenty minutes and don’t stop for any reason.

So, what happens when you do this? At first, not much. You write a lot of useless junk and your hand gets really tired. Eventually, however, two things happen.

One thing that happens is that you start writing cogent thoughts about important things. Your writing taps into your subconscious mind and reveals your deepest beliefs and feelings, long forgotten memories, and amazingly valuable ideas you can use in your business and personal life.

Free writing becomes a kind of self-examination. It is cathartic and therapeutic. You write your way through problems and find solutions. At times, it is frightening, but ultimately, it is liberating. At first, your writing might reveal feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or pain. After a few weeks or a few months, you start feeling better about yourself and get really clear about your future.

Fun times.

The second thing that happens with free writing (when you do it long enough) is that you become a better writer. Your practice of writing daily (and freely) eventually clears away the warts and blemishes that disguise your writing and protect you from revealing your true self.

You start writing plainly and clearly. Your writing has energy and emotion. Writing is fun, and faster, because you are primarily talking on paper.

If you do this, do it first thing in the morning, before coffee, before you are fully awake. Your adult brain will be tired and put up less resistance, allowing your inner child’s brain to be heard.

Don’t show your writing to anyone. It’s just for you, at least for now. But don’t read what you write, at least for several months. Reading your insane scribbles might frighten and inhibit you.

How long should you do this? As long as it takes. Three months, six months, a year, a lifetime. You don’t have to figure that out right now. Just start, have fun with it, and trust that when you come out on the other side, you will be a better writer. Because you will.


Free writing makes attorneys sound less professional and be more successful


“Writing is thinking on paper,” said William Zinsser. As someone who does a lot of thinking and a lot of writing, I have to agree.

Years ago, I read an ode to writers and would-be writers, “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” by Natalie Goldberg. If you love writing–or want to–this book can help you overcome doubt and unshackle your hidden talent.

It was in this book I first learned about “free writing,” a technique for writing quickly, without editing or a hint of self-consciousness. Free writing is raw and uninhibited, allowing you to find out what you think, and what you feel. Goldberg describes it as “writing practice,” a warm up before getting down to “serious” writing and a way to create raw material that can be cultivated into finished work.

For some, free writing is a cure for “writers’ block”; for others, it is a form of therapeutic journaling, unlocking hidden memories, imagining a better future, or reconciling a troubled past. For me, it was the key to becoming a better writer and a better attorney.

As a young attorney, I wrote in a way that could only be described as “constipated”. My writing was clear, my points well thought out, my letters and pleadings effective, but I still wrote “like a lawyer”–stiff and constrained. Free writing helped me stop trying to sound “professional” and start sounding like myself. My writing came alive and in a way, so did I.

Free writing helped me not only to write better but to get clear on what I wanted and what I could do. It helped brainstorm ideas and simultaneously see what I thought about those ideas. It helped me weigh pros and cons and make better decisions. In short, it helped me to think better.

I’ve just read, “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content”, by Mark Levy, a writer and business consultant who teaches free writing to his business clients to help them, “. . .spot opportunities and options, solve problems, create ideas, and make decisions.”

As Goldberg does in “Bones,” Levy uses a series of writing exercises that stimulate thought, but more importantly, action–the action of writing. In free writing, quantity produces quality and writing exercises get the hand moving and keep it moving long enough to bypass the critical mind and produce meaningful results.

I like Levy’s ideas and recommend his book; his exercises are suited to writers and professionals alike. And yet, as I read Levy’s exercises, I couldn’t help feeling, “this is something I should do,” whereas when I read “Bones,” I felt, “this is something I want to do.”

It may be because I was at a different place in my life when I read “Bones”. I haven’t read it in years but I still remember how it made me feel. Goldberg’s voice was comforting, warm and empowering. And, she got my hand moving. Her exercises were simple and unstructured and I did them all. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I felt good about it. I never once looked over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right and that, of course, is the point of free writing: letting it happen rather than making it happen.

Levy references several books about free writing (I’ve read most of them); curiously, he never mentions, “Writing Down the Bones,” the book that introduced me to free writing and helped me discover my “accidental genius”. In my view, “Bones” is a seminal work, one I’m sure he’s familiar with, and I was surprised by its omission.

Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic and if I read “Bones” today, as the person I am today, I would see it as more suited for writers than professionals and look for something else. Nah, I’d probably be too busy writing to give it any thought.