Free Writing

This week, I was lucky enough to have Julie Cameron write a guest blog post for me. In it, she talks about how useful free writing can be for writers.

Free-writing is a great way of clearing the mind – if you’re stuck, or if you just want to work out the clutter.  It can help you step away from your current writing project, and just let your mind wander.  If you find you keep sitting down to write that next scene, but can’t seem to get started, you may just need to clear the extra chatter in your head.

For those of you who have not heard of this exercise, it’s fairly simple.  You are prompted by a word or a phrase, and you write anything and everything that passes through your mind.  The point is that you just keep writing, even if you think it’s gibberish, and even if it’s riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

For example, say the phrase is: “A funny thing happened on my way to the forum…”  You can interpret that phrase any way you like and go from there.

You might write:

A funny thing happened on my way to the forum… I never got there, because I changed my mind and decided to go out for ice cream instead.

Or, suppose you decide you don’t even like the phrase, and don’t want anything to do with it:

A funny thing happened on my way to the forum… A priest, a rabbi, and a goat walk into a bar.

Either is acceptable, because there is no wrong answer!  The only thing you are responsible for, is writing down whatever comes to your mind.  That’s the beauty of this exercise.  And it may be surprising what comes out in the end.  You may not have realized that you still hold secret resentment toward your great Aunt Fanny for leaving her millions to a duck sanctuary instead of to you.  Or you may discover that you are a brilliant poet, and have a knack for traditional Japanese haiku.  Or it may just be as simple as getting “stuff” out of your mind so that you can move on to your Great American Novel.

This isn’t a new concept, people have been doing it for ages.  Julia Cameron (please note the “a” instead of the “e” at the end of her first name, which shows that no, she is not me, although I have started getting emails for her…) uses the exercise of writing Morning Pages in her book, The Artist’s Way as a tool to help keep the writer’s creativity flowing, which is basically free-writing without the use of a phrase to get you started.

Here are a few tips to help you get going:

1).  Keep a list of phrases:  Open a book, poem, email, post, etc. at random and point to a sentence.  Use that, or part of it, as your phrase to get you going.  Make a list and add to it whenever anyone says something that you like (or don’t like).

2).  Set a time limit:  Give yourself a set amount of time for each phrase.  Don’t just keep writing if the time is up, and don’t just quit if the time hasn’t finished (I have been known to write about how much my hand hurts from writing long-hand when I run out of things to write about the phrase).

3).  Use a pen and paper:  Many of us (by “us,” I really mean, “me”) would rather use the computer to do free-writing, but it is actually more beneficial to do it long-hand.  (There are many spiritual and scientific reasons having to do with the heart and the hand and the head, but to be honest, I kind of stopped listening at that part.  You can go out and search yourself if you feel it’s important, but I just went on faith that the instructor knew what she was talking about.)

4).  Don’t correct yourself:  This is very important.  Do not make any changes as you go through your writing.  Don’t worry about how you are writing – grammar, spelling, punctuation – none of it matters.  Just go with the flow, and get it down on paper.

Free-writing can be done on your own, in the comfort and privacy of your own space.  But consider expanding yourself and doing it with a group or in a class.  It takes some courage to read aloud what you wrote, but it will also give you great feedback on what you’ve written, and what’s behind it all.

Sometimes, what we write, isn’t what we think.  And sometimes what we thought, isn’t what we wrote.

Think about it.

Julie Cameron is an author and screenwriter of humorous women’s fiction, living in Denver, Colorado.  Her first book Christmas Spirit, which is also a screenplay by the same name, is the first of the Landon Literary series, and was published in November, 2015.  Julie was thrilled to recently discover that ‘Christmas Spirit’ is currently a finalist in two categories with the Colorado Romance Writers 2016 Excellence Awards contestShe enjoys connecting with her readers, and invites you to visit her website: http://www.juliecameron.net and to follow her on Facebook: Julie-Cameron-Writer

 

 

What Building Legos Taught Me About Writing

As part of the Intentional Blogging Challenge, I got to have the privilege of having Courtney Hunt write a guest blog post for me. In it, she shares her insights into how Lego and writing are surprisingly similar…

Though this winter was otherwise mild in the Washington, DC area, we did get a historic blizzard.  We live about 40 miles northwest of DC and got 39 inches—yes, three feet, three inches—which kept us indoors for a week. Needless to say, my seven year old did not have school.  (Also known as “No, you will not write so much as a sentence, Mommy! No productivity for you!”)

Thankfully, Santa as well as wonderful family members and friends brought tons of Legos for Christmas. My son and I spent his snow days building with the tiny little bricks. (AKA manicure ruiners and impromptu burglar device—you ever stepped on one? Yeouch!)

While building my 87-step tow truck, I reflected on what building Legos can teach you about writing and came up with these four lessons:

1) Reality won’t match the picture in your head. The picture on the front of the box looks perfect. Just like the mental picture of your beautiful story with the clever dialogue and gorgeous metaphors. And then, in reality, you put the sticker on crooked (or backwards) and it never comes out just like the photo on the box. That’s okay. It’s still a beautiful Lego tow truck or a novel. Whichever.

2) It will take much longer than you expect. I hoped that I could finish our Lego car carrier in something less than a lunar month. Maybe not. We’ll see if I get it done by June. Just like a novel, it takes way longer than you thought it would to put together hundreds of Lego pieces into something resembling the intended creation. That’s ok. Take however much time you need.

3) You’ll always have extra pieces. I think Lego puts extras in there just so you’re never entirely sure that you followed the directions properly. No matter what happens, there are going to be pieces of the story—scenes, dialogue, description, the entire third act—that you don’t need for the final version. Keep them in a handy-dandy Ziploc or writing folder. You might need them for that next project—Lego or otherwise.

4) Push past the give-up point. There’s a point in every project where you’d like to toss it across the room. For Lego, this usually happened around step twenty. For writing, it’s usually just past the mid-point where I decide I hate the story, every character in it is too stupid to live, I must have been drunk when I came up with the idea and I should never again scribble notes in the middle of the night. At that moment, maybe take a short break, grab a juice box, and just breathe for a bit. Then, keep going. You’ll never build that thousand-piece castle if you quit. Same for your novel.

Now that the snow has finally melted and we’re beginning to see signs of spring, it’s time to get back to writing mine.

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Courtney Hunt is the author of the Cupid’s Coffeeshop series, the Always a Bridesmaid series, and Kindle Scout winner The Lost Art of Second Chances. She’s a recovering attorney and lives with her husband and son outside of Washington, DC. Visit her at her website at www.courtney-hunt.com to sign up for her newsletter or connect with her on Twitter at @courtneyhunt71.

Guest post: Writing’s never easy

‘Was möchten Sie werden, wenn Sie die Schule verlassen?’

My high school German teacher was rehearsing the questions we would be asked in our end of school speaking exams.

What would you like to do, when you leave school?

‘Ich möchte Schriftstellerin werden,’ I answered, confident in my German as well as my career goals. ‘Ich will schreiben!’

I would like to be an author. I want to write!

And when I left school a few months later, this was still my goal. It was my goal when I travelled overseas on youth exchange, and was met with either enthusiasm or raised eyebrows. And when I came back to Australia, I still very much wanted to be a writer. However, I didn’t think I had the skills, and I didn’t know how to begin. Where was the life experience I was supposed to require? So off I went to university to gain it, and there were so many other interesting things to study, weren’t there? And how was I ever going to make a living from writing? Better to find a proper job.

Only, I didn’t. I worked in different stereotypical-for-students jobs, waiting tables, working in retail, cleaning houses, tutoring. I kept going back to uni to do more study, to find another avenue, another qualification which would suit me better. I forgot about the writing for a bit – it obviously wasn’t to be. I wrote the odd poem, but nothing else.

Then, after having finished my education degree and starting work as a teacher, I heard about NaNoWriMo. I think a friend who knew I was into writing sent me the link. What a fantastic idea! To write a novel in a month! Of course, it came at a time when I was preparing tests for the end of year and already exhausted by my first foray into teaching. I didn’t finish the novel, but the experience was tremendous fun.

I then discovered other websites, and other literary-minded friends. Having others read my work was harrowing and stressful to begin with, but everyone, without exception, was supportive. I had found my niche, but it was still just a hobby. I couldn’t consider trying to earn money from this.

My main excuse was that I had three children under five and was pregnant with a fourth. It wasn’t so much that I lacked the time – my children spent a few hours a week in daycare and preschool, time I could have used for writing – but I lacked the energy. I was stretched so emotionally thin, and my mental health was so fragile, that writing, if I could even muster up the will to do it, often took me to difficult places. Children or parents died tragic deaths; grief bubbled into a dark puddle at the bottom of an abyss. Writing split open my worst fears, and I was horrified by the contents.

But I railed against the depressive thoughts and saw them for what they were: evidence of fatigue; of hormonal shifts which came with breastfeeding one baby while gestating another; of struggles to hang onto one’s mental health while caring for other precious, emotional, dependent beings. I looked for the bright points. I tried to turn tales on their heads. I experimented. In the midst of the washing, cooking, and never enough sleep, I held onto writing, and it saved me. I began a blog. I published short stories. I got my first freelance writing job. I took up a position as an editor, and finished a draft of my first novel. As my children so very slowly grew older, it was as if I started shedding my shackles. I felt as if I was stretching out and up, instead of always looking for a horizontal surface on which to lie down. Whether it was just a matter of getting more sleep, or a consequence of being in my late-thirties, I began to feel like I was coming back to me. I could do this writing thing. It could really be my job. I could choose to make a career from it.

When I look over the last twenty years or so since I was that seventeen-year-old, telling people, with conviction, that she was going to be a writer, I wonder: what took me so long? Why did I wait to pursue this? Why wait until I had four young children, any number of pets, and a garden to look after? I think about all those years when it was just me and the Handsome Sidekick, when I had all that leisure time, when I could have been writing.

And I look at others my age, and others ten or fifteen years younger, and it’s easy to compare myself to them, and come out feeling like a bit of a loser. I am constantly frustrated with my lack of proliferation, compared with other writers. Plus I’m nearly forty and I’m just beginning. There was really nothing holding me back except myself. But then, perhaps that’s the whole point. I wasn’t yet ready to take that leap. And I was always writing. I spent ten years at university, I wrote theses, I wrote poetry, I kept journals, I wrote letters. But I wasn’t ready to allow myself to take it seriously, and I think I also had a rather romantic view of what it meant to be a writer. I imagined it would be something I did full time, sitting at my desk, tapping away at a computer for hours, every day. The reality for me now, and for most writers, is that they have to fit their writing in wherever they can: before or after work, on holidays, at night once the children are sleeping. I wasn’t ready to do that, and so I didn’t.

When I first decided I wanted to try and make a living in this industry, I saw all those years spent waiting tables and working in retail and teaching as waste, but of course they weren’t. Without thinking about it, I was banking knowledge, recording personalities, interacting with other humans, deconstructing social norms. When I sit down to write – when I sit down to edit – I call upon all those moments. I remember the office romances, the shared moment of relief when the restaurant door closes for night, the boredom of repetitive supermarket work, and all those threads, tiny strands, I can weave into characters, plot, narrative… and what do you know? I have perhaps gained some insight into the human condition, and my own.

I do still get frustrated with the way time slips away, every day. While no longer babies, my children are young enough to need me for many hours a day, and they have limited patience for closed doors, behind which I’m trying desperately to finish typing out a thought, an email to a client, a story submission. But at the same time, my work is flexible enough to be able to take a break to bake a cake, or to blow bubbles in the garden with them. And in another, deeper sense, having parents who work in the creative industries demonstrates to them that this kind of job is worthwhile and obtainable. It hopefully broadens their scope, inspires them to embrace their own differences, and encourages them to appreciate otherness. And most of all, it promotes a respect for the arts, which is perhaps as important to me as the writing itself. It’s this, along with the urgent need to get the words from my head onto the page, which keeps me going. Despite always wanting more time, and having regret for the many years which passed when I was doing so much, other than writing, I’ve found some kind of contentment. I’m not sure I want for much more than that.

Rebecca Freeman is a writer, editor and parent of four young children. She lives on the south coast of Western Australia with her family and too many pets, where she enjoys baking, running, and gardening in her copious free time. Rebecca can be found on Twitter @path_ethic and she blogs more or less weekly at thisclimbingbean.wordpress.com