Free-Writing and Reverse Outlining

Writing is not just a way of recording information; it is a way to actively think through ideas. As we write, we explore our thoughts, redefining, explaining, and focusing them as we go. Because writing offers this opportunity for reflection, it can be useful to engage in exploratory writing before you begin a formal draft.

Free-writing allows you to think, but frees you from the anxiety of trying to obey the rules of correct writing. Many people find that in free-writing they can see connections that they couldn’t see when they were trying to construct perfect sentences and paragraphs.

Begin free-writing by giving yourself a specific time period, ten minutes or so, and write on your subject for the whole time. It helps to focus on a specific aspect of your topic. Write whatever comes into your mind; do not stop to review what you have written, and do not lift your pen from the paper or your fingers from the keyboard. The idea is to keep yourself writing so that your internal editor does not have the opportunity to make you self-conscious or faint of heart.

When you have finished, review what you have written. Sometimes you will find a good topic sentence for a paragraph that is giving you trouble. Failing that, you are still likely to find that you now see your material in a different way, probably a simpler, clearer way, and your next attempt to write about it formally should be more successful. Always assume that whatever you have free-written you must rewrite — not just fine-tune, but “rewrite” as in “rethink.”

Exercise One: Free-Writing

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