Sometimes when my students are apprehensive about how much they know about a topic or how to jump into a new writing project, I ask them to free-write for 5 minutes. But I throw in a twist. Once they’ve opened Word (or their word processor of choice), I tell them to turn off their monitor. Suddenly, whatever they write is (temporarily) hidden.
We write for 5 minutes, non-stop. If the tapping slows to a trickle or stops, I remind students to write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem related.
Granted, this hidden free-writing adds some anxiety. Students worry about unseen typos and spelling errors. Yet, if their monitors were on, they’d stop to fix those sentence-level errors rather than focusing on writing more content. As a result, many of my students end up typing more in a hidden free-write than they would during other five-minute-writes. Granted, what they write does not resemble a final product, but the rawness of the hidden free-write adds to its value. Students know they’ll have to revise, and they are willing to make significant revisions because they aren’t wedded to the rough drafts they see when they turn their monitors back on.
While I’ve learned other strategies to focus on recording my ideas before worrying about the stylistic choices I make in individual sentences, I still return to the hidden free-write in my own writing. When I find myself getting bogged down and what to capture the ideas circling in my head before they disappear, I take a leap of faith, turn off my monitor, and simply type.