I spent Thursday through Sunday in Atlanta at the Type A Parent Conference. Which makes it sound like I was learning about being a really in control perfectionist parent, but it’s actually a social media conference for parents. I was there partly because I was leading a workshop with Vikki Reich about free-writing.
It was so much fun. (That sounds super nerdy, but really it was fun. Maybe it was because it was Vikki and we had such a great room of people. But it was also because of words. Oh, how I love talking about the words.) (Anyway!)
We got a lot of great feedback after our session, so we said “PHEW” and figured maybe some of you would like to know what we shared.
(please keep in mind, this session was geared toward the memoir writer/blogger)
1. What is free-writing, exactly?
- Free-writing is writing from emotion first, before beginning to over-think. Ask yourself, Am I thinking or am I feeling? The best way of writing freely comes from your heart-gut.
- This means you start from a place of memory, since that memory is vivid to you because of the feelings attached to it.
- Begin by writing the details of that moment (or experience) as descriptively as suits your writing style. Bring us there. What did it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Feel like? Describe. Describe. Describe.
- Free-writing is allowing for a theme to unfold on its own. DON’T PUSH FOR A THEME, meaning or message. You’ll be surprised at what your words will come to show you. All you have to do is write out the details, and because something has stuck with you, it will appear, even if disguised. It will be FELT because you are writing from that place of feelings.
- Free-writing is silencing the inner critic. (This is the not over-thinking part. Save your critic for an editing process. Later.) This is not easy, but entirely necessary and comes with practice.
- This letting go is the kind of writing in which your muse is most likely to show up.
2. What free-writing is NOT:
- Free-writing is not a brain dump, a way of thinking out loud and rambling all your thoughts. Again, free-writing is descriptive writing that doesn’t hold back, poured out more from heart than head.
- Free-writing is not a way to overcome writer’s block. In my opinion, writer’s block need not be a belief you even adhere to in the first place. Perhaps you haven’t been “blocked” but rather, you’ve simply believed you have nothing to say, the blank page feels daunting, etc. This is about your approach to the page, not that you actually have nothing to say. In our session, we gave Schmutzie credit for this line of thinking: If you are able to talk to me, you are able to write. Can you say things? Then you can write things!
- Free-writing is not simply writing with no prompt. So often people tell me that they can’t do Just Write on Tuesdays because they need a prompt in order to get started. I argue that you are your prompt. Your life is your prompt. That thing that you did the other day, the one that won’t leave you alone? That’s your prompt. That clear memory of that moment with your BFF? Prompt! Those words that he or she or she or he said, that keep turning over in your head? PROMPT! That song that has become an ear bug because you love it so much? You guessed it! Prompt!
3. HOW is free-writing actually done?
You’ve sat down and allowed yourself to FEEL, after considering your most vivid recent-ish memories. Go ahead. Feel stuff! Why is something staying with you? Was it hilarious? Hurtful? Sad? Simply beautiful? Feel it and begin to describe it and take it from there? Let the story teach you, follow your pen or fingers as they dig into the memory. Be the vessel for your story. This means:
- Set reasonable goals and expectations: you do not need to sit down expecting yourself to write the next viral post or the next NYT best-selling memoir. You do not need to sit down expecting yourself to complete an entire essay or post in just a few minutes. Maybe that will happen, on its own, or maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s okay. You’ve typed some words. Go team!
- Make an attempt to write each day, maybe even around the same time each day: Anne Lamott is right again. Yes, we’re busy and maybe there are kids involved who interrupt, but trying is all you can do. Your brain will come to know that it’s time to write. It’s magic, how we can train our brains to help us along a bit.
- You hear me on silencing the inner critic, but HOW? Well, good question: When my doubts and fears and insecurities rise up, I sometimes literally say OUT LOUD like I’m losing it, NO. NO. NOPE. This does not work for Vikki, so we talked in our session about needing to do the best you can to practice stopping the thoughts that creep in. This is another thing that gets better with practice and when you create new, more POSITIVE, pathways in your brain, it becomes easier.
- Accept that silencing the inner critic and finding your free flowing words won’t always happen. We all have off days, but don’t allow them to string together, convincing you that you are “blocked” or that you’ve “lost your words” or “have nothing to say”.
- A great way to practice is to simply sit down to start writing what is happening around you RIGHT THEN. Describe the room, the coffee shop, the back porch, the sounds, the smells, the experiences….eavesdrop a little and describe the nuance of conversations around you, the dynamics and tone that’s being set in the plot unfolding around you at the moment.
- Which you cannot do unless you break free from some of life’s distractions. Can you set time aside that’s just for you? Where your partner takes over childcare? Can you write on your lunch break? Can you stop looking at your smart phone every thirty seconds? Can you shut all the open windows on your computer and check in with Twitter and Facebook later? Maybe set a timer or phone reminder?
- Get inspired! Read things that inspire you, listen to music that inspires you or spend some time doing something else that inspires you. Do something outside and allow the world to inspire you. Pay attention. You’re a writer and that means you’re good at paying attention. Allow what you’re drawn to to inspire you and tell its story. Get inspired by the work of others but don’t compare yourself to others! You are you and that’s just right.
- This includes doing the best you can to not compare you to YOU. Some people feel inspired after reading some of their own best work, that’s great. But many others become frozen with the fear of never being good enough again after successful work is revisited. Do or don’t do whatever works for you. We’re all inspired and motivated by different things. Learn all you can about what works for you and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
Of course, in the actual session at Type A, there was more elaboration, discussion and hilarity. Feel free to add your own thoughts and questions in the comments! Keep in mind that this is a session geared toward bloggers. It is a reminder to us all of what blogging was originally–an online journal of sorts. A memoir. A way to tell stories that mean something to you and hear your friends say, ME TOO. I’m not a writing pro by any means and Vikki doesn’t claim to be one either. We are simply sharing what works for us, and we hope it helps you write in the way you would love to write!
For an excellent example of a Just Write post, please visit Vikki’s post, When I’m Old (it’s a really good post, so please remember, no comparing.) (Although after re-reading it again right now, I will admit that I may never write again….) (just kidding!) (kind of)
Each week on Tuesdays, a Just Write community gathers in this very space to practice this kind of writing. What I love about that is that every Tuesday I get to share some freely written words that aren’t edited or perfected in any way. I simply hit publish after I do what I’ve written about above. Blog posts don’t have to be perfect, remember? We’re just blogging! If you have other work that needs to be more polished, this is simply your first step. Or, as Anne Lamott says, write your shitty first draft. Don’t hold back. You can always go back to edit more later.
Come and join in with us on Tuesdays if you’d like. I love to read your freely written stories.