July 10, 2013 in Book reviews

Freewriting – Accidental Genius

Accidental Genius

You may have noticed that I’m not the most prolific blogger. This is because I find blogging really difficult. I’ve often found myself stuck for something to say and my blog output has fallen way, way short of my intended one blog post per week. As I’ve reflected on it, I’ve been curious as to why. After all, I never ever get speaker’s block so it is odd that I should get blogger’s block!


I’ve tried a few things:
I realised that I was never sure what to write about as I wasn’t totally clear on what I was seeking to achieve by blogging. So, I’ve addressed that and got really clear about the purpose of my blog. Getting clear on this was very enlightening, but the the blog posts still haven’t flowed. It was necessary, but not sufficient.

I also realised that I’d sit down to write a blog post and wouldn’t be sure what to write about and would then overwhelm myself with a multitude of ideas. So, I sat down and brainstormed loads of potential topics, organised and structured them and I now have almost a year’s worth of topics to write about. I can guarantee that I’ll change my mind and deviate from the list but I like having a seemingly-endless supply of topics. But still, the blog posts haven’t yet flowed. Again, it was necessary (for me), but not sufficient.

Finally, being a bit of a geek at heart, I download a few writing apps, bought a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, and carried on not blogging. Neither necessary, nor sufficient!


As I’ve reflected on it, I’ve realised that it is the actual process of writing that I’ve struggled with. My first degree is in Applied Statistics & Computing (I know!) and wasn’t heavy on assignments. I’ve recently finished a humanities foundation degree and I’ve found writing the assignments difficult.


Having identified the process of writing as an issue, I then saw this blog post by Claire Diaz-Ortiz (who heads up social innovation at Twitter) about a book called Accidental Genius by Mark Levy. Accidental Genius covers a wide range of topics and I’m only going to focus on the first part of the book which is about the process of freewriting. Freewriting is the process of getting out of our own way and letting a stream of consciousness flow.


Levy proposes the following approach to freewriting:

  1. Try easy – Don’t aim to produce the world’s best writing straight away. Settle for something  rough and ready at first in the knowledge that reducing the pressure can often improve the output.
  2. Write fast and continuously – Levy suggests that the reason people struggle to write is that we are editing the text as we go. He suggests write first, edit later as a far better process. The problem with editing on the fly is that it can allow our inner critic to play a significant part in the process! Writing fast and continuously means that we can’t edit as we go and our editor/inner critic knows that it isn’t needed until later in the process.
  3. Set a time limit for writing, somewhere between 10 – 20 minutes and just get on with it. Levy makes some great points about the discipline of getting on with it and I like his point that “You needn’t feel chipper to have a world-beating thought”. Sometimes, it is just about showing up and doing, not about our psychology and mindset.
  4. Write the way you think – Levy advocates writing quickly without thinking about how it might appear. This means producing something that probably won’t make sense to somebody else. Levy goes as far as to say that if you can read the work out loud to somebody without feeling embarrassed then you’ve probably been editing as you go and have stifled your creativity in the process.
  5. Go with the thought. Although freewriting might appear to be totally random, it isn’t. It starts with an intention and then the writing flows from there. Levy uses improv performed on a stage as an illustration; even though each line is made up in the heat of the moment, it is in response to the previous line and that is how the text should develop when freewriting.
  6. Redirect your attention. If you get stuck for inspiration at any point and can’t think about what to write, Levy suggests having some ‘focus changers’ ready. Focus changers are simply questions that you ask yourself to free up any block. He suggests a number of possible questions such as “What am I missing here?”, “What does this remind me of?”, and (my favourite one) “Which strengths of mine can I apply?”.


These points are only the first third of the book and it goes on to look at how to use freewriting as a technique for many challenges. If you want to know more, I’d recommend buying the book.


I’ve found the book to be really helpful and it has definitely unblocked my blogging blockage! I’m now using freewriting to produce a very rough first draft of what I think I want to say. It is also helping to have absolute clarity over why I’m blogging, a list of topics, and some good apps and a bluetooth keyboard!

Although I’ve focused on the freewriting technique, this is a book about many things; it is about the process of freewriting and then how to use that process for self-reflection, for making decisions, for being creative, for overcoming procrastination. It is a bit like doing some self-coaching and self-facilitation of brainstorming.


A really interesting book. Right, I’m off to free-write for 15 minutes on my next blog post!

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