Simple Writing Exercises Guaranteed to Improve Writing Skills and Speed

Improve Quality and Speed of Writing
Improve Quality and Speed of Writing | Source

Do you sometimes struggle with writer's block? Do you find it difficult to get started writing? Or perhaps halfway through a piece you seem to run out of ideas or struggle to finish? Fortunately, there are a couple of simple techniques that will help you not only beat writer's block, but improve your writing overall. Not only that, you'll find you write more often and get more enjoyment out of it.

There are many who write as a habit every day. It has been a natural inclination since we were young. For us, we developed some of the skills I'm about to share with you by default, before they were stripped away from us by various teachers and rules of writing.

There are others who enjoy writing very much, but it just isn't as free flowing or natural to them, probably because they are stuck in old mindsets and rigid structures. Regardless, whether you have written since you could hold a pen, or if you are new to writing and still finding your groove, these exercises will help you overcome some established norms that may be holding you back from reaching your full potential.

Why You Need Free Writing

Many people have been introduced to the idea of freewriting, but may not have been shown how it breaks down writing barriers and helps you produce the best work you are capable of. Give the following writing exercises a fair shot. They will drive you batty at first. You'll hate it and want to stop doing it, but persist! If you do these just a few times, you will find that you make amazing breakthroughs you never thought possible.

Most of us are unaware of just how much we restrict our natural writing flow. Are you a grammar Nazi? I sure am. Typos and spelling errors drive me nuts. In fact, they bother me so much; I tend to over-correct as I am writing. This is the absolute worst thing you can do when writing because it hinders both quality and speed.

Do you find the lessons you learned in school on structure are stuck in your brain? Every piece has an intro, the body, and then a conclusion that restates everything? If you ever want to be better than a mediocre writer you must undo the habits of self-correction, over structuring and censoring as you write! The goal of free writing is to write without restriction.

I included a screenshot example below of what free writing looks like. It's ugly, it will make your inner critic cringe and beg for mercy. You will find the hidden desire to reach through the screen and fix it. NO way you could ever publish that as is, but that's the point. Free writing gives you time to get the inner critic out of the way so that you can express your ideas without restraint. What happens after this is amazing.

Freewriting Example

a sample of freewriting in all of its ugly useful glory :)
a sample of freewriting in all of its ugly useful glory :) | Source

The Benefits of Free writing

This is going to be harder than you think it is at first, because most of us are unaware of just how much we censor and edit as we write. It's what keeps good writers from becoming excellent writers, so keep an open mind and give it a try. The first thing you want to do is open a blank document (or pull out a sheet of paper if you prefer the old school style) Here is a free online stopwatch for your convenience.

Set a timer for five minutes and just write/type. You cannot stop, nor can you correct anything. Do not worry about punctuation, grammar, structure, spelling, typos, layout etc.

Don't try to stick to one subject or organize as you write, simply put thoughts on paper as they flow for the full five minutes. When the time is up reflect on how easy or hard this was. Put a notation under what you just created. If you have trouble starting; type the first idea in your head, even if it is about not knowing what to write.

Go and don't stop. Write the entire time, and do not look at what you have written until the timer goes off. Start with five minutes because more than that may result in a full blow inner critic panic attack.

Free Writing Exercise Two

For the next exercise you have to use a computer. Open a blank document and turn your screen off or if you are disciplined enough, close your eyes. No peeking! Now, not only can you not go back and correct, stop writing, or form structure; you also cannot see!

All joking aside, this exercise actually did give me anxiety the first time I did it. I was so nervous and then it occurred to me the reason was because when I was writing I was focused on others, not my own writing or ideas, but on how people will perceive what I am writing.

That was the light bulb that clicked and it helped me to overcome many obstacles. No one ever has to see your first draft of anything, except for here where I have actually shared what free writing looks like.*shudder*

Concern about how it will be received, corrections, order placement, and anything else that obstructs our creative flow should all be separate, and not a part of the writing exercise itself. Those are editing exercises, and when we edit while we write we sacrifice quality of ideas and expression.

Every day, engage in free writing activity. Increase the time and do not correct typos, structure, or otherwise self-edit as you write. In time, it will feel more natural, and it will not only improve your writing, it will make you a more prolific and solid writer and editor.

After you have practiced several times; go back through your writing exercises and cull good content and ideas. Use these for the next writing exercise which is mind mapping. This process helps you become more organized and to quickly outline ideas in ways that flow more smoothly.

How Mind Mapping Improves Writing Skills

A mind map is a great way to organize thoughts and ideas, including already established writing. You can use a large sheet of paper or a mind mapping software. Either way works great and I use both. I prefer the handwritten ones for things like vision boards or personal ideas, and the software version for writing and organizing articles and stories. Freemind provides a great free mind mapping software I use often for organizing ideas and projects, from web design to writing and even home improvement projects.

For this hub, I created a handwritten (I apologize) example you can view in the photo below. I started with the theme of this hub which is “improve writing”. From there I branched out into main points, and from those, I drew further branches to include more sub-points, most of which I hit on during my initial free writing above. These can all be taken from your free writing exercises and plugged into a mind map.

Mind Mapping Example

A quick mindmap used to put together this hub
A quick mindmap used to put together this hub | Source

How Long Does it Take to Write a Hub?

Total time for creating this hub from start to finish, including the freewriting, mind map, writing and editing – 33 minutes. *This does not include creating the capsules etc. that is for writing and editing in Word. Sometimes more steps really do make us more efficient, even though that goes against the grain of everything we are taught.

How Mind Maps Work

Mind maps allow you to quickly organize your writing. They help you to ensure that you express all key points and facts, while at the same time helping you to narrow subjects down and cut down unnecessary excess. They work both sides of the brain - the creative side gets to express uninhibited and the organizational part gets to see everything and organize it.

It sounds like a lot of work, but once you have done it a few times, both processes go amazingly fast. After that, writing your article will take minutes, not hours. Yes, it is more steps, but it will improve your speed and make your writing more thorough and efficient. We tend to look at more steps as time consuming, or a waste and the natural first inclination is “I am not doing this, it's too much extra work”. Trust me, if you embrace good "pre-writing" the extra work will not only make you a faster writer, but a better one!

What did you Think?

After trying the freewriting exercises and mind mapping above please share your thoughts here or in the comments.

  • Wow, that was harder than I thought! I'm not doing that anymore!
  • Wow, that was harder than I thought - but it really opened me up to more expression of ideas
  • I couldn't get through it - my inner critic went into convulsions and I had to stop
  • Did it, love it - going to keep going with it and see where it leads.
  • Did it, undecided, I may or may not keep going with this
  • Different experience? Want to chime in? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below!
See results without voting

I Challenge You!

I would love to hear from you. Try the exercises in this hub and share your thoughts and experiences with other readers. Let them know what you love and hate about it and if it helped you let go and write more freely. Will you develop it into regular practice? Why or why not?

© 2012 Christin Sander

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Comments 37 comments

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 19 months ago from Midwest Author

Awesome BizWhiz - looking forward to your experiences with it. :)

TheBizWhiz 19 months ago

Today was my first day to try the 5 minute free writing exercise, except instead of typing, I chose to hand write it in my diary. I was surprised at how little I wrote in that time, but I think this exercise will not only help improve my speed, but also actually get me to sit down and write consistently.

I will let you know my progress in a couple of weeks. Thanks!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 19 months ago from Midwest Author

Seems I forgot to come back to my comments - sorry guys! So glad that others found the hub useful and I hope you will continue with the good "pre writing" exercises and see lasting improvements :)

midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

I agree that we tend to over correct ourselves. In the end, the expressions that were actually the most effective became lost. Thanks for sharing, Christin.

livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 3 years ago from Charleston, SC

Great exercises here. I use freewriting all the time but I have never used mind mapping, it seems too disorganized for my taste.

old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi ChristinS. Thanks for a really informative hub. It's always so nice to find someone who is so helpful to others with info so freely given.

Voted up and all / following.


ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Thank you Jack - I can see that too. Unfortunately, my inner critic doesn't share the other side of my brains vision all the time. It's always an effort to not autocorrect while writing for me, but when I let go of that and do free write, especially with fiction, the quality is always much improved.

Jack von Faust profile image

Jack von Faust 4 years ago from Denver

This is a useful article indeed! I find that my free writing has a sort of morphed, convoluted beauty. The analogy that comes to mind is abstract art, where the structure of everyday form is scrambled resulting in a new, weird, hard-to-appreciate, but truly beautiful state. I kind of see free writing in the same light.

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

I used to be the same way and resisted free writing thoroughly until I had to do it for a class. Once I got into it I discovered how much it actually helped. Perhaps you can give it another try sometime :) Thanks for commenting OldRoses - much appreciated.

OldRoses profile image

OldRoses 4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

Ugh! I hate free writing. I'm so organized about my writing, that I won't commit anything to paper (or on the screen) until I have "written" most of it in my mind. Perhaps that's where I do my freewriting!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

LadyLola - that's very cool! Thanks so much for coming back to my hub and sharing your experiences I really appreciate that. I'm thrilled it's working so well for you. Yay!

LadyLola profile image

LadyLola 4 years ago from Canada

Just to let you know that I wrote my hub in 2 normally takes me many more hours or even days to write an article and it is all thanks to your fantastic tips that really do work. I would have finished even faster if I didn't have other obligations at the time such as cooking and dishes and I would have published it sooner, but I prefer to let my writing sit overnight and "mellow" properly so that I can read it over again the next day to fix errors. I expect that as I practice these exercises that I will be able to do it as quick as you. I will definitely continue to follow your good advise and I thank you for helping out a fellow writer.

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Awesome LadyLola - looking forward to hearing your experiences - and of course, reading your hub :)

LadyLola profile image

LadyLola 4 years ago from Canada

Thank you for the helpful tips. I'm going to go and use them right this minute to write a hub about serial killers. I will let you know how it goes when I'm done.

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Thanks for the comment shruti glad you enjoyed the hub

shruti sheshadri profile image

shruti sheshadri 4 years ago from Bangalore, India

An excellent hub! A great choice of topic.

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

You're welcome SayItWithFeeling - (love your screen name) I appreciate the comment.

SayItWithFeeling profile image

SayItWithFeeling 4 years ago from Spanish Fort, Alabama

Thank you so much for this!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Juggler, that is an interesting idea to type/write lyrics to focus - I will have to try that. Thanks for commenting :)

bwhite & serchinsany - thanks for the comments I appreciate it :)

bwhite062007 profile image

bwhite062007 4 years ago from East Coast

Excellent hub and great tips! I will definitely be trying these ideas out.

GoForTheJuggler profile image

GoForTheJuggler 4 years ago from Texas

Freeform writing was one of the first things they taught us in Screenwriting 101. If nothing else, it clears out the cobwebs and allows your creativity a way to poke through the chaos.

Another activity I employ is listening to a favorite song and writing/typing the lyrics. Not only does it help me memorize the lyrics, but it helps focus the mind for a session of writing.

searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 4 years ago from UK

An excellent Hub, thank you for the advice.

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Radcliff - I have been writing for many years. You may not write an entire article that quickly at first - but with time and continued practice it does increase your speed in quite unbelievable ways. Thanks for reading and commenting :)

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

I can't believe this took you only 33 minutes! I really have to work on being more disciplined to freewrite correctly and take the time to make a mindmap. Thank you for the nudge!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

I struggle with self-editing also, that's the hardest part of freewriting. The good thing is you still indulge in all that editing, you just do it when you're supposed to - after getting out all of your ideas :) I do edit a lot, and I go back to hubs several times after I've published them and find little things that I do go back and fix.

Mindmapping is excellent for organization especially :) plus sometimes as you are organizing the thoughts from a freewrite, more ideas pop up that you can put directly into this type of a loose outline.

Thanks all for the votes, comments, and sharing etc. I appreciate that very much.

yougotme profile image

yougotme 4 years ago from Manila

A very helpful hub! Thank you for this one ChristinS!

Mind mapping is really a powerful tool to extract some brilliant ideas from writers like us. :)

pagesvoice profile image

pagesvoice 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

Voted up, useful and interesting. As someone who has written my entire life you presented me with a different perspective. I am guilty to a fault of proofing my work as I go along. Then, when I've finished a piece I go back and read and reread. Even then, after thinking I have checked everything, I still find errors. My little joke about my typos is "To err is human and some of us (myself included) are more human than others.

Bredavies profile image

Bredavies 4 years ago

Very well written hub. Thanks for the advice!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Angela, mind mapping is great if you are a visual person, it really helps to organize quickly so I hope that you will enjoy it :) thanks for the comment and the compliment - much appreciated :)

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Thanks for the votes and for sharing Rajan, I really appreciate it. I still love paper and pen myself. I wrote journals and stories longhand well before I ever even considered the possibility of writing for print :) They both certainly have a place.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

This is an interesting piece of writing. Come to think of it now, I did freewriting for my first hub here and though it is not a great write, I know I was able to do it in record time. I entirely agree editing while writing is a big distraction and should be left for later. I'm from the old school and still use the paper and pen to freewrite but I shouldn't worry about that.

Mind mapping is something I need to focus on more . Haven't done much of it lately.

Thanks for this reminder, Christin. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Shared this hub.

Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Coming from the old school of writing as I do (very, very old, in fact) I've always "free written" everything I do and then go back and make spelling and punctuation corrections, change a word or two, etc. I've never tried the Mind Mapping but will now give that a shot as you suggested. Very informative and useful -- plus well written Hub. Thanks so much. Best/Sis

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest Author

Thanks for reading and commenting Julie, Nick, billy :) I appreciate it. Nell, I remember doing writing exercises where they would give you a list of words and you had to tie them all in together. I always thought they were challenging, but fun. We would share with the group and it always amazed me the different ways people would tie together seemingly random objects. Thanks for the vote and comment.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

This was great, I had forgotten how to free write, I actually did a writing course back in the 90s, and we did something called Clustering which is the same as your Mind Mapping. It really is helpful, and because its written down it is so much easier to make ideas come to you. we were always told to pick three things, for example, a leaf, a train and a bench. Then write a story concerning those three things, its amazing how easy it is to do it! really interesting, and voted up! cheers nell

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Wonderful suggestions my friend; I will keep this close by for the next time my imagination shuts down.

NicholasA profile image

NicholasA 4 years ago from Midwest

I love this article, great job! I will have to try this out to improve my own writing.

Julie DeNeen profile image

Julie DeNeen 4 years ago from Clinton CT

Great hub! I do something similar with a morning journal. Loved this :)

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