Are there any writers out there who have advice on how to open yourself up to “freewriting?”
I have discovered an obstacle in my writing process over the past few months. When I started writing personal essays, I approached them the way I approached journalistic articles — I wrote them from start to finish, revised a few times and then believed I had something close to a completed draft. I learned, over time and with the help of my MFA teachers, that it’s not always a good idea to wrap up your thoughts and themes so quickly and neatly when you are writing creatively. With journalism, you have the basics — who, what, where, when — and you’re working with style guides and accepted structures geared toward specific publications. It’s very much a “paint inside the lines” process to a large extent, especially if you are reporting straight news. Creative writing offers a much broader canvas, and a wide variety of options for developing something new and different, something that reflects your own vision as a writer/artist, and is spoken in your own voice (literary journalism offers similar opportunities, but usually within certain constraints).
When I first got to the point where I was shaping personal essays, I had to take apart what I originally thought were nearly complete drafts and look more closely and what MORE could be done with them. It didn’t feel like enough to get the basics down on paper with clear, error-free prose. I had to look at the language again and be more creative with it, think about things like metaphor and sound and rhythm. Have you ever had a moment when you just know you’ve written a great sentence? Those moments can be few and far between, but when they happen…it’s a great feeling. (I smiled re-reading that, because I can imagine a non-writer reading this blog and thinking: “Are you kidding me?” But yes — a great sentence is a hard thing to write and it’s pretty cool when you do it.)
After looking at language, I began focusing on structure, revision and editing, continually trying to get more out of the draft. Finally, after numerous revisions, I was able to turn my rough drafts into pieces that felt somewhat complete.
Now I’m having a different problem. Because I’ve worked so hard on structure and turning drafts into completed pieces over the last year, I’m finding it difficult to start from the beginning in a new way with new pieces — to open myself up to freewriting, getting ideas down, finding out what happens if I just “riff” on a topic or event for a while without worrying about structure or completion. I think it’s important to allow this early part of the creative process so you don’t restrict yourself to initial ideas about a piece. But I find myself editing as I go, trying to turn pieces into something that “reads well” or “makes sense” too early in the process. I end up with some tight, clean drafts, but they are missing that spark of creativity that comes from letting your mind — and your pen or keyboard — run free for a while, either at the beginning, or at times during the writing process when you feel stuck.
I’ve read “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg of course, a book that offers many exercises geared at freeing up the writer within. But I’m still having a hard time forcing myself to just write, write, write for a while without editing myself.
Any suggestions out there?