Live Writing: what it is, and how to do it

Live writing is when you go out somewhere and write ‘live’ on the spot. You can also call this technique ‘writing in situ’ or even ‘total immersion writing’. There’s a more performance orientated version of live writing where you write ‘live’ in front of an audience. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean writing a first draft in a particular location, without editing as you go. I write short stories like this, but it could be any kind of writing. You write something that is inspired by the detail in your environment, but it doesn’t have to be about the place.

Live writing is a combination of three other techniques:

  1. Freewriting – writing without editing as you go, writing what comes into your head.
  2. Close observation – trying to get to the specific detail of what you can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, sense in each moment.
  3. Creative visualisation – imagining what could happen in the space you’re in, letting your imagination roam.

How does live writing work?

When you go ‘live writing’ you want to go somewhere interesting to write. That’s the main point of the exercise. But it’s up to you to interpret ‘interesting’. Take a notebook with you (or laptop – although this can be restrictive). Make sure there is somewhere to write and somewhere to shelter from the rain.

By the way, I am dyslexic, and I find this technique really good for letting go of the self-judgement that can come with a first draft. You don’t have to spell correctly, or punctuate or even stick to the lines. You simply get the words down. This is not a draft to show to anyone. This is a draft for you. When you type up your writing later, that is when you can add the spelling and punctuation and amend your sentence construction. During the typing up stage, you can also edit the writing as much as you like. For me, it was during the typing up stage that the story came together. In other words, during my live writing session I tried to let go of the need to tell a story and get some words down that I could play with later. Often interesting characters emerged this way.

Where to go

You could sit on a bench in your local park. You could travel somewhere – an old building, a museum, a beach. You could even try writing on public transport: on a bus or train or ferry.

Create some writing constraints

In other words, make up some rules! Writing constraints turn the whole thing into a game, and actually make you more creative. You can, of course, break your own rules if you need to!

How I did it

When I wrote a short story collection using live writing, I wrote the stories in interesting places in London. What were my rules? Well, I decided in advance that they should be quirky or hidden places, that they should be free to get in to, that there should be somewhere to get a cup of tea and shelter from the cold or rain. Those were my rules. I wrote one outside London’s Roman Amphitheatre, for instance, and another in the Cotton Room in the British Library. I broke the rules when I wrote at the Garden Museum as I had to pay to get in. When the place was nice enough, and suitable for writing in, I stayed for half a day or a whole day, trying to finish the first draft in one sitting. Here’s one I started in Seven Sisters Tube Station, inspired by the ‘seven sisters’ who were supposed to have been turned into trees, although I finished it at home.

Another way to use live writing is to go there in your head. I sometimes take places that I know really well because I’ve been to them to often and put myself in those places in my imagination. I wrote You Are Not Special about Clissold Park and Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington, while I was at the Brunswick (a pub theatre in Hove).

Try it out

Have a go at some live writing and let me know how you get on in the comments.

Happy Writing x Louise

Up next: Writing Resources Just for You

 


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