Many students find the writing process difficult. Despite having completed A levels or other qualifications, it is quite common to find students somewhat mystified by the writing required at university. This is particularly the case when it comes to writing a final year dissertation, which will usually be a longer and qualitatively different piece of work than anything the student has attempted before.
Over a few blog posts I will be exploring ways of helping students improve their writing. In this post my focus is on freewriting, and challenging some of the assumptions we often hold about the writing process.
Freewriting is a technique where you write for a set period of time, without stopping, and without worrying about spelling, grammar or structure. It is incredibly useful for generating ideas, or for working through challenging parts of an argument. In this way it challenges the assumption that all writing must be perfect, and also the assumption that writing only happens once all the thinking has been done. Freewriting encourages students (and any writer, in fact) to use writing as a way to guide and extend their thinking, beginning to create some order out of the jumble of thoughts in their heads.
Done regularly, freewriting can also challenge the assumption that writing only happens when inspiration strikes. Most of us have been guilty of putting-off writing until we feel the right moment has arrived, or until we have enough time, or until we have done all of the required reading. However, if we freewrite regularly, say 5 days a week for 30 minutes, we avoid this type of procrastination. Instead we can quickly generate text and ideas, which can then go on to be modified for our dissertation or next paper.
I have been introducing freewriting to my final year dissertation students for the last few years now. For many students the idea has been quite surprising, as our ideas about writing tend to be firmly ingrained. However, feedback has been extremely positive, and students are usually keen to give it a go to move their writing forward. By using freewriting we can encourage students to start the writing process early, and conquer their fears of the blank page.