The Problem with Freewrites

in #writing4 years ago (edited)

“Freewrites” have been a point of contention on the Steem blockchain for years. Writers come and go, names and faces change, and sometimes the original debate gets lost between iterations. From time to time we may need to re-state our position on this topic and clear up any confusion. This need not be a divisive issue. We can all register opinions about it and guess what? Such opinions don’t have to be clones of each other.

Our Official Opinion

At Steemhouse, we understand that there’s a large, happy community all contentedly freewriting and enjoying the sense of belonging this gives them. Great. We don’t challenge that. Writing is a way to bring people together and if this is what freewriters are seeking, we don’t challenge that, either. We won’t go around downvoting or making disparaging comments on other people’s posts, and if anyone sees this type of thing from someone doing it “on behalf” of Steemhouse, please let us know immediately. This is not what we’re about.

On the other hand, please don’t anticipate that we will ever upvote, comment on, praise, encourage, or even read freewrites--and we can usually tell that’s what we’re looking at with or without a freewrite tag or mention in the title. Seasoned editors know first drafts when they see them, usually at a glance. The first excruciating line of undisciplined prose gives it away every time. Most busy editors, agents, reviewers, and critics won’t bother reading further. They figure--and rightly so--that if the author can’t be bothered to get it right in the opening lines, their work is not going to get better in the subsequent ones. Harsh? Sure it is, for people who write for their friends and grandmothers. But for writers serious about finding an audience of consumers who expect a certain value for their money, it’s a necessary truth.

The Steemhouse community is run by professional writers for professional writers. Yes, we absolutely welcome writers of all skill levels. We mentor, encourage, teach, and advise everyone from rank beginners to published authors. However, it must be said that our combined years of experience in the mainstream literary and publishing industry mean that writing--and reading--have a different significance for us than for the average blogger. Freewrites on the blockchain often create a profound sense of frustration for us, especially when we can see that some authors of them truly do want to improve their craft but aren’t getting the guidance they need to do so.

First Drafts are Every Writer’s Dirty Little Secret

Anne Lamott coined the term shitty first drafts in her bestselling writer’s guide Bird by Bird. She humorously addressed the fact that nobody gets it right in the initial draft, not even professionals. But professionals tend to practice restraint--they know it’s not in their best interest to air their underdrawers until the last greasy poop stain has been scrubbed clean.

Freewrites, like laxatives, have a purpose and a place and are excellent tools when properly administered. But when used as an excuse to be a lazy writer or to avoid the criticism of savvy readership, they can make just as big a mess on the page as a careless dose of Ex-Lax can make in one’s pants.

Most of us take laxatives as needed, not as a substitute for proper eating habits that include balanced amounts of fiber and water. In the hands of someone with an eating disorder, the same laxative that gently keeps things moving in the right direction can become patently dangerous. Think of freewrites in this same sense. They get things moving. You don’t necessarily want to show everyone what they produce. Used incorrectly, they cause problems. But overall, every medicine cabinet (or writer’s toolkit) should stock them in case of emergency.


Steemhouse is not the blockchain police for quality content. What we brand and publish for mainstream audiences will be our only remark about what we feel meets that criteria and what doesn’t. Just know that our editors and staff have been “out there” in mainstream publishing for many years, combined and individually. We’ve been critiqued by the best, crushed by the best, rejected by the best. We’ve also heard from the best what we could do to improve our work and we paid attention. Our frame of reference gives us quite a bit of insight about what audiences like to read, what they don’t, and what they absolutely will not tolerate. The value of our opinion about freewriting is relative to the reason one is freewriting in the first place. Mileage will vary.


As a fan of the freewrite community, and as a serious writer/workshopper/ editor, I see what you're saying here. "Publishing" our freewrites here might scare off actual publishers someday, because the blockchain is forever. Even if we self-publish, our freewrites can come back to haunt us. On the other hand, some of us are selling books. E.g., @deeanndmathews, who wrote last week about a freewrite prompt that broke open a dam (and no, not in the way of a laxative):

I remembered a detective I made up 20 years ago ... Ironwood Hamilton ...
Captain Hamilton ended up taking on all the "What do I do with this?" prompts as clues, and the world around him started to grow ... I eventually placed him in the county I made up in Virginia for some Civil-War era stories I had just finished at that time: Lofton County, but in modern-day Virginia.
Then, I started looking at the headlines coming through in the last three years -- from Virginia for real, and elsewhere ... the racial issues from the Civil War are still alive and well ... and Captain Hamilton had to start dealing with that, since he was in modern-day Virginia. When the prompts fell right, he did so.

Before publishing freewrites, * we who are serious writers * should clean up our typos, syntax errors, punctuation, spelling, and all that. Not all of us aspire to be published or make writing a career. Many of us are non-native English speakers.

I do regret posting my NaNoWriMo wip a chapter a day (with daily freewrite prompts in mind), because it was all those things you said about first drafts, and the only reason I haven't purged those posts is because I figure nobody will ever read them anyway. Here today, gone tomorrow, at Steemit... no?

I'll think on this some more.

Well said, Carol. Agreed on all points.

Thanks. I've slept on it and thought some more.
@Freewritehouse is a place for writers who are not professional writers, who may not even aspire to be published authors. Some grow and learn and do publish. We don't have "in house" editors or judges. We do have people who've been criticized, discouraged, told they couldn't write, but in freewriting community, they discover they can write--and learn to write better.

Steemhouse is a completely different community with higher ambitions. Freewritehouse is a grassroots community for support, encouragement, friendships, fun, and sharing without fear of ridicule. Anyone who comes in with snide judgments will get no traction, no attention. We are a close-knit group, growing every year. A good number of freewrites and we-writes have earned the attention of @curie because so many of us do edit, revise, and polish - knowing our stories came to life thanks to a daily freewrite prompt, and thanking @mariannewest and all the volunteers who take time to read each other's writing and offer positive feedback.

You do what you do. We do what we do. Some of us do a little of both.

We can co-exist at Steemit and acknowledge the good that each community is doing.

Write on!

Exactly the point of the post. Two different communities with two different goals in mind. We can explain why we don't freewrite at Steemhouse, and other groups can explain why the do in theirs. Writers can choose which environment works best for them.

I don't see the goals as mutually exclusive. :)
But if you don't have time to read freewrites, no surprise there. Soooo much content to sift through every day on Steemit. Only so many hours in a day.
I read only a tiny fraction of what I could/should read, and that's only at Steemit. Add in Twitter and links that show up at other social media, and I could spend 24/7 reading at the pc.
Pick and choose... we have a finite number of heartbeats and minutes in a day.

It's true that I don't have time to read freewrites, or most of what's posted on Steem these days. I have to budget my time carefully. If I read something, it has to be well-written and polished, even in the draft stage. I give a piece about 100 words to grab my attention before I stop reading. If I'm giving feedback for someone that is making repetitive bad decisions with their writing and I can tell this will be consistent throughout, I pick a point (usually within that 100-word limit,) stop reading, and explain what has to happen to the entire piece before I keep going. This saves my time, my patience, and a lot of hurt feelings.

The one sad consequence I've seen that came from freewrites being touted as a writing style on Steem is that many writers who once delivered solid, convincing prose no longer seem capable of that. Their writing has suffered, and I'm sure that's because the lack of discipline and honest feedback has resulted in the development of bad habits that would all have to be un-learned if they intend to write seriously in the future. From a personal standpoint, that is my take on the situation, although it doesn't reflect the official Steemhouse opinion, which is slightly more tolerant.

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Hey lady! So after reading this and reading @carolkean's comments, it has given me a lot to think about it.
From my own personal story as an aspiring writer, I found a home at the @freewritehouse that I will always be thankful for. I was so scared to share anything that I had written even in a house surrounded by friends, that when these strangers gave positive feedback...never about grammar or word choice, but how my writing made them feel, it slowly started making me less and less fearful. Which something I could never repay.

Now with all that being said, I feel like Steemhouse Publishing serves such a different purpose that a comparison post or "stance" post isn't necessary. I mean that in a loving way. I know that, and I think any one else who would come into contact would quickly figure out, that Steemhouse is about publishing writers on a greater scale.

I understand what you mean though. It frustrated me to no end when I was young and I would watch the drill team. I was studying dance 3 times a week, learning and perfecting a craft while they seemed to whipped and chucked the same steps without as much training. What I could see as potential, looked like it was being thrown away. It took me until I was adult to realize that it was never an "either/or" it was "and/both". They both have a place and it only depends what the individual wants.

So as Steemhouse continues to grow and do great things, I would only encourage, as a friend, to let things transpire organically. You and your team already know what they are looking for, and you'll continue to shape that out the more writers that come your way.