Flex your skills with 5-minute free writing


Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Houston, I was an art student. Then I became a graphic artist and web designer. I sketched, a lot.

Now I’m a copywriter who works alongside graphic artists and web designers. And they sketch, a lot. During meetings, in brainstorming sessions, at their desks — their pens and pencils skim over whatever’s handy with a steady rhythm. And in just a few minutes, they can sketch some amazing stuff.

Last week, I was five minutes early for a meeting. So I followed their example but instead of sketching pictures, I jotted down random phrases that popped in my head.

The results themselves were terrible, but it was still worth it.

The sailor sailed across the ocean and over the side. The world needs bumpers.

Your financial future is in your hands – squeeze carefully

Feel the mayo running down your chin? You just took a bite outta of the big san’which.

A beer is only as good as what’s in it.

Have you hugged your cactus today?

See? Complete drivel.

But coming up with quality catchphrases wasn’t the point. My mind felt stretched, like a house cat waking from a nap.

Unlike our design counterparts, we writers often wait until we feel like we have enough time to write something substantial before we sit down to practice. Most writers I know carry a notebook to jot down whatever nuggets their muse sends their way. Great, but we’re still waiting for inspiration to strike.

Five minutes doesn’t sound like much. But what if we could turn that into a habit that builds our skills and helps release us from a persisting pursuit of total perfection?

So, a new approach to free writing.

Instead of telling yourself that you don’t have time to come up anything good, ask yourself what you can come up with in five minutes. Or ten. Or while you’re standing in line at the DMV, in which case who knows how much time you have.

Anything counts. Don’t feel like you have to write down full sentences, either. Single words, word combinations, even sound effects can help loosen up your writer’s muscles.

No pressure. Just like most of what’s in an artist’s sketchbook, most of what you come up with won’t see the light of day. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. They’re just exercises. Play a little.

Be open to gems. Sometimes brilliant lines show up when you least expect them. Think about it: we can spend three days on a piece and still think it stinks. Who says we can’t throw down some shiny words in a few minutes?

I had four headline options by the end of that meeting, all of which they loved. (I’d share but the project is internal confidential stuff and I want to keep my job.)

Artists keep their skills sharp with quick, two-minute sketches. And since it’s a well-known writing practice to compose in your head before you even sit down, jotting down what you can in five minutes or so isn’t that much of a stretch.

Of course, since when are we promised useful results even when we have all day? Personally, I can stare at the blank page, daydream and not write a single word all day whether I’m interrupted or not.

Give it a shot. Then feel free to share your favorite results in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Flex your skills with 5-minute free writing”

  1. The timing of your post couldn’t be finer. I just started sketching/drawing this past week (coming from a total writer background) and I’m finding just taking a few minutes DOES start to open up ideas – both visual and literary. I have a forthcoming post on this topic! By the way, keep the ‘Have you hugged your cactus today?’ line. Awesome.

    1. Glad you liked it! Also: awesome that you’re taking up sketching and drawing! It really helps warm up the brain and get the creative juices flowing. I very much look forward to your post about it.

      Also also: thanks–even the world’s prickly residents need love. 🙂

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