Faye Rapoport DesPres


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?

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3 thoughts on “Freewriting

  1. Stephanie Groneman

    I haven’t “written” for a living in ten years but when Johan got cancer I had lots of emotions and thoughts that were trapped. I felt alone and frightened so when a friend suggested I start a blog, the idea really appealed to me because I knew I could just be me: honest, simple but raw. I didn’t have any guidelines. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to keep everyone up-to-date.
    When I write my blog, I approach it like a conversation. I have a topic and I try to engage the reader to follow my train of thought, while understanding my feelings or pain or joy or whatever. I just write. I try to end it in a way that flows and stays in line with my initial topic. Then I go back and edit but only very slightly. I don’t want to take away from the feeling I had when I was first inspired to write.
    Faye, you’re an excellent writer so don’t ever fear that you’re not. Open yourself up. Don’t hold back. Just write from within and I promise you it will be worth it.
    Lots of luck from your old Roundhouse buddy.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks, Stephanie! I love reading your blog because it comes from your heart, and it always reminds me to live every moment.

  2. Faye Snider

    I’m paying lot of attention to ideas and thoughts that just come– a thought upon arising that surprises, begging for a follow-up sentence and then another or a title as I’m in the middle of washing my hair, hoping I can hang on to it until I have a pen in my hand.I experience the new writings as explorations of a path where there are no markers.. just the sense of where I am in the moment and moving my pen to get the lay of the land and to ground my direction.
    I freeze these days in “free write” situations” and so far, I write better when I warm up with a few good poems or an excellent read where the sentences just flow and wash over me..
    I liked your image about grabbing the green ice in mid air and wondered what the story was!