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Friday Features: Free Writing And Grief

By Charlotte Baker

“So long as we are being remembered, we remain alive.” Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Free writing is an established prewriting technique that is known to evoke ‘raw’, often deemed unusable, material. However, only after ten years of being an author and experiencing grief myself, did I start to unlock a new method of writing, which taps into unfiltered memories, emotion and senses. This article, in many ways similar to the nature of free writing, is one of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever written. The intention is to help others through one of the most difficult periods in their lives.

Free writing is a process where a person writes continuously for a certain period of time with no thought as to spelling, grammar, or syntax. Clearly, this is in opposition to traditional beliefs on ‘good writing’. To some, the material produced in free writing is unusable and quite worthless; however, the process is invaluable. Free writing is viewed by many as a ‘warm up’; helpful for stretching the mind and connecting ideas.

Steps To Free Writing:

  • Write with a pen/pencil and on paper.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Write ‘freely’ just processing the current thought you have, or write with a specific topic in mind.
  • Don’t worry if you get ‘stuck’ – write the same sentence over and over until you ‘break through’.
  • Leave reading it back for a few days, then approach it with fresh eyes.

You can free write about anything you like. In one of my classes, the topics are mermaids, then chihuahuas:  the next step in the creative process is then to connect these two ideas together. Amazingly, for the last three years, all my students have done so convincingly. Free writing is an effective way of pushing the boundaries of creativity and what you think you are capable of achieving.

Equally, I don’t believe that free writing produces unusable material. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the material you write in this way can be an insight into your soul. It can later be reused in creating characters and atmosphere, organising speech, describing a setting. There will be diamonds in the rough embedded on that paper, drawn from your thoughts.

So Why Grief?

I had, perhaps, been one of those critics who dismissed the accuracy and emotional power of free writing. I’d certainly dramatically underestimated its worth. After a devastating and shocking loss in the family, I was left absolutely bereft. Soon after the loss, I became fearful of losing the clarity of the image in my mind of my lost loved one: the sound of their voice, the way they moved, the clothes they wore. I couldn’t afford to lose these things – I’d already lost too much. As an author, you’d think this would be a relatively simple process; writing down what I was visualising. But I couldn’t. I ripped out every page I wrote. My words could never do justice to that personality. It was beyond paper and pens.

After a while, concerned the picture in my head of my loved one was becoming less and less vivid, I decided to trial free writing as a way of attempting to communicate what I wanted to. The thought of this being raw material, never meant to be read, allowed me freedom from judgement amplifying what was in my heart. Free writing not only gave me a treasured keepsake of raw material that so vividly encapsulated my loved one, it also allowed me to really process what had happened.

Through the experience of free writing through my grief, I posed certain questions or prompts  I knew would ensure I focused on the aspects I wanted to treasure and remember:

  • Describe your favourite memory with your loved one.
  • What would you be most likely to see them in?
  • What items did they treasure and why?
  • What did they think about their job and why?
  • What was their relationship like with other family members?
  • What did they teach you about life?
  • What did you most admire about them and why?
  • What do you wish you could say to them?
  • What about their favourite food, colour, drink, music, film?

For each of these aspects, I went into as much detail as I possibly could, using all my senses to ensure I could create and later easily recall how and why I felt the way I did. Take your time in completing each prompt; maybe one a week. Free writing can be emotionally challenging and draining at the best of times. It felt incredibly emotional, completing my notebook.

A few years have passed now, and I return to this booklet – a treasured keepsake – with fond memories and many smiles. Free writing my way through grief helped me process something so unimaginable and difficult to comprehend and, because of this, the importance of writing was entirely reaffirmed.

Free Writing for beginners:


Issue 9 of Write On! Magazine is out now. 

Free writing is an effective way of pushing the boundaries of creativity and what you think you are capable of achieving.