Writing exact-but-easy is the instruction that most new F-R-E-E-Writers find hardest to follow. Fast, they get. Raw, they get but what does it mean to write exact-but-easy? Are these two not contradictory? If I’m worrying about exact, how can I flow easy? And how can I then follow the first injunction, to write fast?

The key to this dimension of F-R-E-E-Writing is not to think about how you are writing at all but to focus on the content. Specifically, on the images. What you see, hear, taste, touch and smell.


Looking around me I see: A crack in the glass that looks like the map of the Mississippi river.  The vein in the temple of the woman across from me, knotted and bunched. The rucksack weighing down a slight girl walking past, a patchwork of blue and red, and as tall as herself.  If I turn to what I’m taking in through other senses, I get different images. The smell of over-roasted coffee beans, the sliver of spinach that got caught between my teeth, that my tongue can’t loosen.

Detail triggers in memory, an association, an image. And “an image is always the deepest wellspring in writing,” says Pat Schneider in her great book, Writing Alone and with Others. If we just describe it as our senses experience it, we catch the heart and soul of something, and it turns around and speaks back to us, and tells us something we didn’t know we knew.

How precise do we need to be? As precise as possible. Here’s Schneider again: “If I tell you the bedspread is green, you will not care very much. If I tell you the green is as vivid as a lime gumdrop, and the blue is as deep as antique blue glass; if I tell you that the spread has been chewed by a small animal in one place on one side, but that’s OK because it’s reversible, with blue predominant on the chewed side, green predominant on the unchewed side… I have set the scene for the reader.”

It’s the same when writing for self. The detail tells us what we need to know. F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Start out with an individual and you have created a type – start out with a type and you have created nothing.” In other words, the particular is universal.

So make a note of your particulars. Here’s how:

Start With One Image

Advertising firms know that if you want to communicate that millions of people are starving in Africa, you do not give people statistics. You show one child with a swollen belly holding an empty bowl. Give us one child, and we grasp famine. so, without knowing anything at all about what it is going to be, lift your pen and write a single, specific, concrete image. See it in your mind, and as fast as you can, write it down.

Add More Detail

Describe it in extreme detail. Be very concrete. Get specific, get intimate, get down and dirty if necessary.

Change the Viewpoint

Zoom in to see a deeper level of detail, zoom out to get an overall picture and perhaps a different impression

Draw On All Senses

We always favour sight but those who cannot see develop keen hearing and sense of smell. Close your eyes. What happens to the image now? What are you perceiving?

Follow The Writing

One image will lead to another. Don’t predict where it is going, just write down the details as they appear. Skip around if you must. Abandon one thing when another appears in your mind. Trust that the images know more than your conscious mind.

Nabokov said, “Caress the divine details.” If we write clearly and truthfully, we will find in our own imagery something we didn’t know was there.