Blindwriting: A Freer Approach to Freewriting


Writing is hard when you try to create and criticize at the same time. But while composing that first draft, it’s difficult to resist the urge to edit too early. You reread the previous sentence and notice something – a dangling modifier, a weak verb, a careless typo – then it’s too late. You’re criticizing what you’ve written. And when the inner critic takes over, the writer is blocked.

To help writers escape the inner critic, writing gurus have preached the power of freewriting. The idea is that if you write fast enough, you won’t have time to look back and criticize what you’ve written.

So why risk it? Why not remove the option of looking back altogether? While drafting, you should hide what you’ve written from yourself – and your inner critic – so that you can focus on creation. This is the essence of blindwriting.

How to do a blindwriting exercise

Since blindwriting is a variation of freewriting, the guidelines are similar:

  1. Pick a short, non-intimidating timebox duration, say 5 to 15 minutes.
  2. During this period, force yourself to write whatever comes to mind, continuously, recording even digressions and comments about your confusion (“I don’t know what to say.”)
  3. Write without judgment or restraint, ignoring the need for quality or correctness – in grammar and usage, spelling and style.
  4. Make sure you don’t see the words while you’re writing.

You can fulfill the fourth guideline in several ways:

  1. Use a leadless pencil, barbecue stick, or stylus to write on a sheet of paper with carbon paper behind it, imprinting what you write on the page behind the carbon paper.
  2. While on your computer, dim the brightness of your monitor or turn it off altogether.
  3. Change the font color so that it matches the background color.
  4. Whether you’re writing longhand or typing, just close your eyes.

The fourth method is easiest for touch typists, but its additional benefits make it worth the effort to learn to touch type (I recommend learning Dvorak keyboard layout). But first, regardless of whether you have your eyes closed, here are:

The benefits of blindwriting

  1. You starve your inner critic of material to criticize. This is different from trying to ignore the critic, as with regular freewriting. It’s the difference between a dieter refusing to raid the fridge, and a dieter having no fridge to raid in the first place.
  2. You can write at full speed. When you’re not trying to avoid typos, you can write closest to the speed of your thought. And you don’t have to worry about typos. The letters and words you did type correctly are more than enough to reconstruct what it was you were trying to say.
  3. Others can’t see what you’re writing. The privacy blindwriting brings is liberating. When someone hovers near my writing space – in the office, in a café – I become defensive, paranoid. And this shows in my writing. Blindwriting lets you write bravely, completely safe from your critics – internal or external.

Now for some benefits you can get from closing your eyes while you write:

  1. You can play a movie in your mind. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then why settle for seeing just letters? If you’re trying to describe a place or process, why not imagine what you’re trying to explain while you’re writing about it? Even when you’re writing something that’s not inherently visual – such as an argumentative essay – your mind can feed you with visual metaphors, sparking ideas and connections you would’ve missed with your eyes open. But blindwriting is probably most beneficial to fiction writers. Without external distractions, you can make up every aspect of the scene in your mind’s eye: watching the hero defeat the villain through the eyes of the sidekick, recording every detail and emotion as it unfolds.
  2. You can talk face-to-face with your audience. Audience is one of the most important considerations for any writer. What better way to write for an audience than to imagine that person or group before you as you write? With your ideal audience clearly in your mind, you can tell them exactly what they need to hear. You can imagine them bored, and adjust your writing to be more entertaining, you can imagine them puzzled, and clarify some bit you just talked about. And from time to time, when you think you deserve it, you can imagine them smiling or laughing – or giving you a standing ovation.

Of course, blindwriting is just a part of the writing process. Once you have created enough material, you’ll have to criticize your work, rereading and rewriting – again and again – until you get it just right. But when you have something to edit that is raw, fresh, and creative, the editing process becomes more fun – and will ultimately produce better prose. Your inner critic will thank you.


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Red Tani writes, designs, and consults for Redvisory, a communications consultancy he started in 2009. A former systems analyst, video game hacker, and Counter Strike sniping champion, he does all his computing a la Dvorak.

Discussion

  1. Emily Suess on the 22nd September

    As I writer, I’m a little surprised that I haven’t heard of blindwriting before now. I think it could be a good method for developing ideas for my personal blog. As for generating web content for clients, it might slow me down. Still, I’m eager to give it a try.

    • Red Tani on the 22nd September

      Hi Emily! It’s written about in a few writing books, usually in the subsections of the freewriting/brainstorming section. But the default method is still eyes-open, though I think when it comes to breaking free from extreme writer’s block, nothing beats blindwriting. Anyway, do let us know how it goes!

  2. Mike Brown on the 22nd September

    As Tony Grounds once said: “Don’t get it right; get it writ. Then worry about getting it right.”

    • Red Tani on the 23rd September

      This reminds me of similar advice, I don’t remember from who: “The first draft is the down draft: Just write it down. The second draft is the up draft: You fix it up.” Or something like that. Thanks, Mike!

  3. Mimi on the 23rd September

    Another trick is just to look at your hands while typing.

    Personally, I’m not bothered by my typos ’cause I know when I type a mistake and I mechanically correct them anyway. What helps though is when I don’t see the screen at all. It’s another distraction. So I can just look at my hands while typing.

    • Red Tani on the 23rd September

      Thanks for the tip, Mimi. Looking at your hands does help. This would particularly help hunt-and-peck typists who have to look at the keyboard (and their hands) anyway. But instead of checking for mistakes every now and then, all they’d have to do is put it off till editing time.

  4. Joshua Riddle on the 23rd September

    Blindwriting and freewriting are an essential aspect of my drafting process due to the perfectionist-like tendencies that try to kill my creative process. It is essential for me to keep the writer and the editor separate during this process. Otherwise I would probably end up spending an unlimited amount of days on 1 page of written material. I use the “look at the keyboard while typing” technique, this allows me the freedom to look up from time to time and feel comfortable knowing i am still working in the right application.

    • Red Tani on the 23rd September

      To ensure that I’m still working on the same application while I’m blindwriting, I use q10 (http://www.baara.com/q10/).

      The software plays typewriter sounds while you type, so hearing the clacking lets me know that my I’m still on my q10 document and my blindwriting isn’t going to waste.

      I also set the font color to the same black background color as an added level of defense against premature editing. If I really, really need to check something, I just hit CTRL+A, which highlights the text and allows me to read them while selected.

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