On Free Writing: Make the Most Out of Five Minutes

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“Are you an American citizen?” I was 7 years old when the border patrol asked me that question.

My family and I were on our way from grandma’s house in Mexico to our home in San Antonio, Texas. In those days, crossing the border didn’t require a passport. A flip of the tongue, a near-convulsive act, flat-lined from Spanish would prove our identities as Americans. Or they thought.

I had two seconds to prove who I was. Suddenly, I had to hide the rain of summer, vocabulary lessons from the college preparatory school – something I was infinitely proud of as a little kid in college prep.  I had two seconds to mask the early morning trips to the market for fresh eggs and jamon.

How does an American girl abandon a dual identity in two seconds flat?

Our bilingual tongues open borders. Many monolinguals feel left behind when bilinguals, and multilinguals, speak of opening borders.

Writers tear down walls. Writers forge a way for truth to imprint itself on eternity. The act of slinging words on paper in answer to your calling is, in fact, your (m)other tongue.

Free writing is proof of identity. How? You have nothing to prove to anyone. Yet, your reader will come to know you better by what comes out of you in those five endless minutes.

Freewriting exercises are an incredible way to stay disciplined in your (m)other tongue. They conjure up feelings you may not think you had. They bring to light tiny syllables hidden in the recesses of your mind as you’ve taken in all the good Lord made.

When I joined the Five Minute Friday community, I feared I wouldn’t have anything to write. Some word prompts terrify me. What helps me be effective in five minutes?

I think back on the times I had 2 seconds to prove I was worthy to come back home.

Five minutes is a blessing. How do you make the most out of your five-minute free write? Here are some tips.

  • Who are you

Who you are is from where you write. What do you bring to the table?

It’s a place where your feet are firmly planted. It looks like where you come from, where you’re going, and what you’re doing about it. It looks like grace packaged into tiny characters representative of language.

  • Take a breath

I’ve received a lot of advice on free writes. The main one is, don’t stop writing. Don’t let your pen come up off the paper. For a person with already scattered thoughts, who needs a moment to focus, this is bad advice. I always take a few seconds to think on a prompt.

My friend Kate has this great advice:

“When writing a five-minute free write, I think some people tend to panic and think that they’re not allowed to give any thought whatsoever to their post before they start the clock. In my opinion, writers can think about it for as long as they’d like, so long as they actually write! There’s nothing wrong with learning the prompt, sleeping on it, waking up with it in the morning, and pondering it in the shower before setting fingertips to keyboard. Personally, I try to have at least some idea of how I’d like to begin and how I’d like to end before I start writing. I think a strong first impression and a memorable ending are important components. Granted, what ends up on the screen is not always what was in my head originally, but that’s all part of the fun.”

For 16 free writing tips, click here.

  • Take advantage of sweet spots

Is the baby napping? Grab your pencil. Are you waiting at the laundry mat for the last load? Grab your pen.

Are you in a shift change? Hope you put your pen in your pocket. Grab a napkin.

Sweet spots also come in the form of dead air space. For example, are you up at 4:00 a.m. and the house is absolutely quiet? After prayer and scripture, grab a pen. Do you have 10 minutes before bedtime to relax? Meditate for 5 minutes and write for the last 5 minutes. The more you practice impromptu writing, the easier it is to let your life flow out in a free write.

  • Say it out loud

If you’re with a group of people this may not work. If you are alone, read your words back to yourself as you type or write. I call this the mad scientist style of writing. I prefer this method 80% of the time. When I started doing this, my typing finally caught up to my reading out loud. This helped the words make more sense as I strung them along.

  • Write longhand

I don’t usually type my free write. I write it out on paper before typing it out into a blogpost. The definition of longhand is “ordinary writing” and I disagree. Longhand is profound and visceral. To watch words culminate from loops and lines and dots and curves to a word is profound. It’s a method we’ve abandoned because typing is faster. What if you wrote enough that either typing or writing would burn the same amount of time? Practice.

Every piece of writing should grow you. How is your free writing growing you? Is it a bunch of words strung together because they sounded good? Or is it a morphing of words which bloom you spiritually or culturally? There is plenty to learn about writing. I am a forever student of the craft. I hope that it’s growing me as a person because it is my calling. Best is not in my vocabulary but better is.

  • Be okay with putting it away

When the alarm chimes that five minutes is up, abide. Coherent thoughts may finally be coming together after five minutes but this is a free writing session, not an essay session. Allot more time in your day for those sessions. Learn to wrap it up right where you are in five minutes. Train your brain to get fired up way sooner than at the 4 minutes and 45 seconds mark.

This is hard for people who crave control. Learn to give it up at exactly five minutes. Oh, but I was just getting started. Try again tomorrow. What if those thoughts are not there tomorrow? They might not. These five-minute sessions prepare you for the larger task of writing for a long, thought out piece.

Next time you sit down to write a blogpost, essay, or article (maybe even a chapter), it won’t take an hour to get going. Guess what? It will take five minutes.

I hope these tips help improve your five-minute free write sessions. I write for five minutes each Friday. I recommend writing each day. But, if you only have five minutes on Fridays, please take advantage of those sweet spots.

Do you have tips and tricks for making the most of your five-minute free writing sessions? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below.

Cover Photo by Lesly B. Juarez on Unsplash