June 25, 2012

writing practice: freewriting

One of my most challenging writing practices is freewriting. Some writers/creators might use their morning pages as freewriting space. I admire them! Sometimes I freewrite in my morning pages, but they are usually a place of 'sorting' and more conventional journaling. I do not set out to make them this way, but this is how my brain works, first thing in the morning. They shake my brain around and empty out whatever has been sitting for too long and building up. 
But I definitely find that I challenge myself more when I sit down to freewrite. My morning pages have already cleared my mind, and whether my freewriting follows immediately or much later, I embark on a journey that has no anticipated destination. Some of my most passionate writing comes from this practice, and it has led me in so many new directions, too! All of the advice on writing I have read encourages freewriting, especially for prose writers. I am personally a fan of longhand writing, specifically printing rather than cursive, because that is the way I write the fastest. Speed is not the goal, but flow can often require speed. For me, the tactile qualities of writing by hand really enhance the experience. This connection of pen to paper differentiates this writing practice and keeps it from feeling like writing an email or using social media, etc. I do know people who freewrite on the computer - it is simply not what works for me! 

Here are some principles I have gleaned from the many books and articles I've read, which have helped me in my freewriting practice:
  • Focus on your writing tools: It is so important that your pen or pencil will move comfortably across the page and connect with your paper in a way that matches your particular flow of words and thoughts. We all hold our pens differently, we all have different ways of connecting pen to paper, and there will be as many combinations of the "right" writing tools! Some great advice I have heard is to even take the pressure off of your process by using inexpensive notebooks which create absolutely NO expectations for how they must be filled. If you choose that route, I still suggest that you find a pairing of writing instrument that will combine comfortably. Be willing to experiment with combinations until you find one that really feels right. 
  • Find the writing environment that most supports your flow: When I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, my writer friend Chris and I decided to visit a "write-in" at a local library with other participants. I gained great insight into all of the varied environments people choose as they write: longhand or typed, music or silence, and some writers even seemed to physically connect with their flow, either bobbing along with their writing or growing absolutely still as they concentrate. Often, when freewriting, it helps me to have noise. And often, if I need to shake up my routines, I will go to a coffeeshop to write, to give me an even busier background. I think this might come from growing up in a big family with a noisy background at all times. But there is no wrong answer! 
  • Commit to freewriting for a specific time period: You might begin at just 15 or 20 minutes, or you might find that you like to devote an hour or more. Timed writing will help you keep going and give you an end in sight, for those moments when you will feel like you can't keep going. It helps to create a goal, both in motivating you to achieve the goal and in helping you feel proud of your accomplishment when you reach the goal! Start small and work your way up!
  • Begin anywhere: I know this is probably an overused theme here, hehe, but it is one that has been a block SO many times in my own practice! Freewriting is not about beginning at a beginning - it is simply about beginning at all. You can even begin with "I don't know what to write today." Keep going and you will find your topic, and most likely many topics to follow after! Or you can use a writing prompt of any sort to get yourself writing.
  • Keep your expectations simply in the practice: Do not put pressure on the outcome of your writing. It is super important that you are motivated by the practice and not the results! Otherwise you will just be creating more blocks for yourself. Sometimes I will not let myself read back through what I have written for a certain amount of days, to be sure that I will not read with so much pressure on the results.
Those are my most practical applications of all the advice I have learned. Whether you are a writer or not, I hope you will try freewriting sometime soon! One last short list of rules from one of my favorite writing teachers, Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones, from the chapter "First Thoughts"), which I keep in the back of my journal to remind me:
1. Keep your hand moving. (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.) 
2. Don't cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.) 
3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don't even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) 
4. Lose control.  
5. Don't think. Don't get logical. 
6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)
(Learn more about Natalie Goldberg in this post! And you can read Chris' book blog, Wildmoo Books here!) 

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