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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...
September 2003 Column


Break Writer's Block with a Freewrite
by Tama Westman

Do you find it easier to organize your desk than your thoughts? When it comes time for serious writing, do you instead challenge yourself to another round of Spider Solitaire? I used to plow through reams of paper, just trying to get the first paragraph right. Then, I found the freewrite.

The freewrite is a fantastic device to add to your writer’s tool belt. It does precisely as its name proclaims – it frees you to write, and to write freely.

Rules, rules, what rules?
Unhindered by rules of grammar, spelling, editing, punctuation or format, the freewrite breaks the walls of writer’s block and gets your creativity flowing again.

Rule #1 – There are no rules. Do not to be bothered by capitalization, punctuation, grammar, spelling, format, theme - - nor any other structured tool of regular writing. (Other than the actual writing bit – you still need to form letters, words, and so forth.) You can write one long paragraph, line by line, or a circuitous route around the border of the page if you choose. As long as you write, write, and keep on writing.

Rule #2 – Set a time limit, a mere 5 minutes to start. You can work your way up to 10, 15, 20, and 30-minute intervals later. For now, five minutes should be enough to get you into the process and see the value of the exercise.

Do you have your paper and pen in hand? Now, think of a topic. It can be anything – from describing your relationship with your mom to discussing your love of motorcycle rides on Sunday mornings. Just think of something, anything, to write about.

Virtual travel
Now, here’s the secret: Once you begin – don’t stop. The instant your pen hits the paper, act as if the paper owns the pen until the time limit is completed. Do not stop to ponder, cross out, begin again, or elaborate. Simply write. Wherever your mind takes you is what you will transfer to the page. You may go on wild tangents, have off-subject thoughts and ideas. You might start describing an orange and end up with how hurt you were when your dad didn’t take you to the Orange Bowl. Who knows? Just write it down.

Your pen should not stop moving until the time limit is up. If you get stuck, repeat the last word you wrote or write your current thought or feeling, as long as you keep writing. Let loose and have fun with this exercise. Your brain and hand will work in sync to push your thoughts through and break the writer’s block barrier.

Rule #3 – When time is up, STOP! No need to finish a thought, complete a sentence or wrap up the paragraph. The idea is not to have written a polished piece, but to have written. A freewrite will open the channels of creativity in your mind and get you writing again.

Assemble, adjust and add
So, what do you do with it? In my creative writing and poetry class, I teach my writing students how to pull poetry from their freewrites. We review what they have written and underline key words and phrases. Next, we assemble only the underlined parts onto a separate page. A concise visual comes forth and, (ta-dah!) poetry is created. By adjusting the position of a phrase or adding a key word here and there (remember after the freewrite is over, you return to the revise and edit mode), writers who at first thought they could never compose a poem, find true poetry was inside them all along. Their creative door was unlocked by the powerful freewrite.

Put to practice
In my own writing, I use the freewrite to find more depth or a different direction for whatever project I am working on. For example, I was having a difficult time getting a story sold that I thought was good. After filing a year’s worth of rejection letters, I stopped the submission process and took time for a freewrite.

I began again to write about my son’s automobile accident from the natural viewpoint of his mother. Soon into the exercise, however, I saw words of pain and despair cross the page as I re-enacted similar frightful experiences of my own. When I connected my own tears and tremors to the story through the real, raw emotions developed in the freewrite, the story took on a new viewpoint and added dimension that was needed to make the piece poignant.

The revision sold to a national magazine the first time I queried (to be published in September or November, 2003). The freewrite helped me to break the mold I kept envisioning for the story and find a new fresh angle. In fact, as I underlined key points and phrases in the freewrite, I discovered a sidebar list that I also sold to the same magazine. Whether a beginning hobby writer or a professional paid journalist, this exercise is beneficial to all levels of writers.

What lies beneath
The beauty of a freewrite is that unconscious correlations and unacknowledged emotions find their way to the page and give you a new sense of what lies beneath the surface of your conscious writing. When you write, and continue to write, without thinking long and hard about it, your subconscious takes over and you get on paper things you might never have written in your planned, premeditated writing. Deeper emotions and often, more intelligent reasoning, than what you thought you had, rise to the surface to give your writing some oomph.

When your brain freezes and the blinking cursor on your monitor mocks, pull the wacky, but reliable freewrite out of your writer’s tool belt to grease your writing gears and start writing freely again. 

Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary and arts magazine, Haute Dish. As a freelancer, her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students and helps to edit the column of her 18-year old, British-bred cat on coolpetsites.com, Purrfect Gypsy – The Cat’s Eye View. She is married with two college-enrolled children, and keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Her published clips can be viewed via her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com and she can be reached at tamajoy@earthlink.net.









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