Book Review -- Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content

I had read this short book a long time ago. It is a very helpful book to learn about how to use writing for thinking --freewriting.

Motivation for freewriting

The mind is lazy. Thinking is hard, and our brains don't like hard. It recycles tired thoughts, and avoids unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.

Freewriting prevents that from happening. Freewriting is a form of forced creativity.
Writing is nature's way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.  --Guindon 
If you think without writing, you only think you're thinking. --Lamport 
Freewriting helps to unclog the mind, reduce resistance to thinking and writing, bring clarity, provide perspective, improve creativity by causing a chain reaction of ideas, and articulate better about ideas.

The premise of freewriting is simple: getting a 100 ideas is easier than getting 1. "When you need an idea, don’t try for just one. When searching for one great idea, we demand perfection from it, depress ourselves, become desperate, and block. Go for lots of ideas. Keep your threshold low. One idea leads to the next."

The first half of the book gives the below six tactics for freewriting. (The second half elaborates more on these.)

1. Try Easy

A relaxed 90 percent is more efficient than a vein-bulging 100 percent effort. When you begin freewriting about a thorny subject, remind yourself to try easy.

2. Write Fast and Continuously 

Your best thought comes embedded in chunks of your worst thought. Write a lot. Think quantity. If you temporarily run out of things to say, babble onto the page. Write as quickly as you can type, and continue to generate words without stopping: Your mind will eventually give you its grade A unadulterated thoughts.

3. Work against a Time Limit 

The limit energizes your writing effort by giving you constraints. Pomodoro method helps here.

4. Write the Way You Think 

Freewriting is a means of watching yourself think. Write the way you talk to yourself. Since you're writing for yourself, you don’t need to polish your raw thoughts to please others. All that matters is that you yourself understand your logic and references.

5. Go with the Thought 

That's the first rule of improv theater. Assume that a particular thought is true, and take a series of logical steps based on the thought. In other words, as what if questions.

6. Redirect Your Attention 

Explore random paths with focus changing questions: Why? Why not? How can I change that? How can I prove/disprove that? What am I missing here? What does this remind me of? What’s the best/worst-case scenario? Which strengths of mine can I apply? How would I describe this to my uncle? If I wanted to make a big mistake here, what would I do? What do I need that I don’t yet have?

MAD questions

1. What are other uses for freewriting?
Freewriting makes for good meditation. Many people use morning pages (freewriting in the morning) to clear logjams in thire minds. I couldn't make this a habit, but when I did try this I got value out of it.

I occasionally used freewriting for thinking about a research problem. I write down some observations and then I start speculating about hypothesis all in freewriting form. It works. Again, I wish I could make this a habit and do this more often. Well, I guess the blogging and the MAD questions help somewhat for this.

Freewriting is also good for planning. I should do more planning.

I guess it is time to schedule some freewriting in my week. 

2. Is it possible to use freewriting for writing?
Yes, you can use freewriting to write memos, articles, and stories. The trick is to edit ruthlessly after freewriting. That may be wasteful though. Freewriting helps you discover what you want to write. After that doing an outline and writing from that could save time. So it may be best to combine a little bit of bottom up freewriting with a little bit of top down outline writing.

3. Did you try any freewriting marathons?
The book suggests that instead of 20 minute freewriting sessions, it is helpful occasionally to go for 4-5 hours of freewriting marathons. I never tried that. It sounds torturous, but maybe it is worth a try for the sake of curiosity what would my depleted unrestrained psyche spew out after an hour of typing its train of thoughts. Couldn't the mind get lazy in freewriting mode as well and start to recycle same thoughts? But I guess the idea in the marathon is to force your mind to move past that.

4. How was your experience with freewriting?
Let me know in the comments or via email or on Twitter.


Kuo Zhang said…
After a few pieces of writing, I have experienced this: "Writing is nature's way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is".
I really benefited from some of your blogs. Thank you, Professor.

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