All Roads Lead To Rome

I have a coaching colleague who likes to say: “All roads lead to Rome.” By this, she means that no matter what you start talking about with a client, the real issue will soon show up.

I feel the same way about free writing. It’s one of my favorite tools to explore my own creativity. There are many different ways to use this tool.

Basic Free Write

I usually start with my pen and paper in hand. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then open my eyes, letting my eyes fall on whatever object that is in my line of sight. Then I start writing, using the object as my starting point. Then I just keep writing, usually for 5 minutes. If I can’t think of what to write, I write “I can’t think of what to write” until another thought comes. I glance at the clock to know when to stop.

For example, a free-write might begin like this:

I see the stool that Joey sits on when he helps me make pancakes in the morning. I hope he’s feeling better tomorrow than he is today.

While this is not earth-shattering stuff, it does show how quickly one can go from a mundane object to whatever is at the front of one’s mind. If my son wasn’t sick, I might have continued to journal about the stool and mentioned how my son calls the ground coffee he spoons into my coffee funnel “coffee crumbs.” Again, not earth-shattering stuff, but memories I will be thrilled to re-read at some point in the future.

Fiction Free Write

I use the format of the Basic Free Write, but I start with the perspective of my character. How might my character view the stool? Or, if I already have a setting picked out, how would my character describe it? The most important rule is to keep writing. Do not let the pen stop moving (or the fingers stop moving on the keyboard) or you will lose that momentum. It feels silly, but only for a short time, before I’m lost in the world of my character.

Nonfiction Free Write

When I have a speaking engagement, or need to write nonfiction for a particular audience, I have found that doing a Nonfiction Free Write really primes the pump. I start by closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and asking myself a question, such as: “What do I want my audience to know?” What do I have to say about this topic?”

The short time limit and the need to keep writing without stopping give me a structure that allows me to write to my audience in a very authentic, intimate way. After the free write time period is up, I usually put it away for a while and then go back and mine it for nuggets that I can use in my actual presentation or article.

Do you Free Write? How does it work for you? What other techniques do you use to get your creativity flowing?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is currently a full-time mother, part-time life coach, part-time writer. She is a Master Certified Life Coach, trained by Martha Beck, among others. She is passionate about her son, her writing and using her mind to create a wonderful present moment.  Find her life coaching blog at

I’m hosting a One-Day Writing Retreat on September 15th at the Rodgers Memorial Library in Hudson, NH. I’d love to have you join us! For more information and to register, please click here.

27 thoughts on “All Roads Lead To Rome

  1. I do free write and am a firm believer in it. There are mornings I get up and think – I cannot pick up where I left off – so I free write – but I write myself back into the project I left the night before often times. Not always – a new story or poem might crop up but getting “ink on paper,” starts my brain up again.

    • Hi Sandra,
      It’s great to hear about your process. I feel the same way about free writing–it’s my go-to exercise to get the wheels turning. I especially like to use it when I’m intimidated by what I’m trying to write (like if I have to give a speech and don’t know where to start.)

      Thanks for commenting and thanks for reading!


  2. I guess my daily journal is my free writing and it opens up what I am truly feeling. When I am brave enough to look back at what I have written I find some of it very raw and moving. For poetry I just write whatever phrases come to mind while watching nature then I juggle with them or cut and paste them until every word is loaded with meaning. Thanks for reminding me!

    • Hi heavenhappens,
      You are welcome! I love the idea of just writing down words and then cutting and pasting them where they go best. What a great idea!

      Happy writing!


  3. I start most of my writing sessions with free writing. It helps clear my brain and focuses me. The interesting thing to me is that some of my best pieces started out as a free writing exercise.

    • Hi Andrew,
      I agree, that free writing often leads to really good work. For me, I think it is because I give myself permission to write anything down–my inner critic doesn’t get a chance to edit before I can even get the words down, as sometimes happens.

      Thanks for commenting and thanks for reading!


    • Hi Piper George,
      Great! Let me know what you think after you try it. I always come back to free writing, no matter how many other cool writing exercises I try (and I’ve tried a lot of them!)

      Happy writing!


  4. OK I’ll admit all my writing is free writing! I let my imagination free and my fingers begin typing…it’s almost like being a channel for thoughts. I have written novels, short stories and a novella this way (the hard work comes later of course!) but the story and the characters lead me where they want to go and it works. I find that if I try to think about character/location/plot etc. I get stuck.

    • Hi mandyevebarnett,
      I think free writing is a great way to start any project. When I do NaNo this fall, I will start by free writing and see where it leads me. Thanks for sharing your process with us.


    • Hi granbee,
      I once belonged to a writer’s group and it was all free writing. We’d meet, chat a little, then everyone would free write based on a prompt (picture, quote, etc). After we all wrote for 20 or 30 minutes, we’d each read what we wrote. Since it was all first draft stuff, we didn’t critique, we just said what we liked about the piece. Then each person had a piece with real potential to go home with. It was great fun!

      Thanks for commenting and good luck with your writing!


  5. I love this idea. Every now and again I attempt a writing prompt but find it leads to contrived writing. But just letting the thoughts flow, conjuring up the muse is what happens when I drive. For example, yesterday I felt compelled to listen to music that concentrated on beautiful lyrics. Paul Simon steps up to the plate. Begin listening to Richard Cory and midway through shut it off to recite the original poem outloud so I can compare the original poem to the lyrics. Instead of turning the music back on, however, I start wondering how many other poems I can remember, start playing with rhymes and then BAM! – the first line of a poem shows up in my head clear as day.
    In fifteen minutes I was at my destination, first line clear, a sense of rhythm to the piece. I know what I’m going to work with, how to begin.
    I’ll have to try your method! Much fun.

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for sharing your process with us. I agree, driving can be a great place to come up with ideas. My problem is I never have paper and a pen with me at such times! I definitely need a better system for capturing ideas. That’s one of the reasons free writes work for me: I’m ready and waiting, pen in hand, for whatever ideas flow through me when I set that timer.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy writing!


  6. Free writing is a good way to write when you are wondering where to start, in fact these days, it is almost always how I start to get myself going.
    NaNoWriMo is a great way to get started if you have never done free writing, and the last few days as you build up to that 50,000 words is like being at the races!
    I love this website too, and one day will make time for the Friday fun!

    • Hi Kate,
      I agree with your comments. I mentioned NaNo in an earlier reply to a comment. NaNo feels like one big free-write, at least once I get going on my word count. I am excited to try again this year. I haven’t completed NaNo since 2008, but this is the year I do it again! Are you with me?!


      • Hi Diane, I don’t think I’ll be on the NaNoWriMo train this year! 2011 was my first, and I made it, but ths year I have to complete an Honurs thesis, and can’t see it being done by November 1st!! Good luck with it and I look forward to reading about your success! Best, Kate

      • Hi Kate,
        Your Honors thesis sounds like it takes precedence over NaNo! In 2009 I planned to do it because I was pregnant but not due until November 21st. I had my son on October 29th and forgot all about NaNo! Good luck with your thesis!


  7. Thank you for this! I had been feeling guilty for my “free writing” feeling I was procrastinating in finding the place in my novel (about four chapters short of being completed) and you have given me another perspective, I am just stretching before I go back! smile~

  8. Pingback: Free-writing is hard. « Write on the World

  9. Pingback: Find Your Calling | Hands-of-Faith Holistic Healing Centers® Blog

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