Posts Tagged ‘freewriting’
Posted April 13, 2012on:
I am always amazed at how much insight a spontaneous writing prompt can yield. In my ‘First Thursdays’ writing group, we come up with a prompt generated on the spot, freewrite for 5-10 minutes and share. We also critique 3-4 pages of work we’ve brought. Yesterday, my dear writing buddy Al offered this prompt: “I like it best when…” We put pen to the paper for 8 minutes.
I wrote a list:
I like it best when I’m in charge.
I like it best when I find a book that makes language feel fresh.
I like it best when I work in the background and help others—but also acknowledged for a doing a good job.
I like it best when others believe I’m smart.
I like it best at home, hanging out without any makeup on, in comfy clothes, with plenty to eat in the fridge.
I like it best when I have uninterrupted writing time that fuels long spells of imagination.
I like it best when I’m healthy.
I like it best when I have a new book that I’ve written, hot off the press, in my hands.
I like it best when I wake up with a line for a new poem on the tip of my tongue.
I like it best when I have cooked a sumptuous Indian meal.
I like it best when I laugh so hard with a friend that I sound like I’m snorting.
I like it best being inundated by the lights, sounds and smells of a Las Vegas casino.
I like it best right after a facial.
I like it best when I hear from a former student who tells me about their achievements.
In reading over my list wonderful contradictions and tensions are present. My writing group pointed to the tension in my statements between liking to be in charge and wanting to play a supporting role. I see a tension between my enchantment with casinos (I lived in Las Vegas for two years), and therefore intense stimuli and the joys of solitude that accrue through the practice of writing.
Tensions and contradictions are what make humans fascinating and writers mine these facets of personality to make their work emotionally compelling. Try this writing prompt and see what you discover about yourself. Or, you can apply this prompt to the fiction that you write. How would your main character answer the prompt? What contradictions and tensions from the character’s list could you draw on to deepen a conflict or plot development?
At the close of the summer, I’ve been rummaging through several journals containing writing from the past year. At the end of a writing workshop last December, my instructor gave us a stimulating prompt. The prompt was: ‘The writer I was meant to be’ and we had ten minutes to free write about it. I wrote the following:
“The writer I was meant to be writes with the courage and sophistication of James Baldwin
-the irresistible beauty of Gish Jen
-the depth of Ursula Le Guin
-the creativity of Ntozake Shange
-the honesty of Alice Walker
-the fearlessness of Walter Mosley
-the precision of Sheri S.Tepper
-the humor of Jonathan Lethem
The writer I was meant to be encompasses the qualities of writers I admire above. It [a writing career] takes craft, training, persistence and subtlety. I’m still working on it! I’ve written probably under a 100 beautiful pitch perfect sentences in my fiction (even though I have written a lot!). Hmm, maybe a new goal for 2011?”
In the ensuing discussion, everyone shared remarkable insights about the distance between the ‘writer that they were meant to be’ and ‘the writer they were’ at that moment. We bemoaned and laughed about this distance and congratulated ourselves for what we had already accomplished. After I left the workshop, I thought about that ’100 beautiful sentences’ line. I made an intention for 2011. I wanted to generate a lot of writing, but also aim to craft more beautiful sentences. I felt this was a worthy goal. I haven’t gone through all of my writing this year and evaluated how many beautiful sentences I’ve crafted. But, I know that holding this intention during the last ten months has helped me pay more attention to the quality as well as quantity of my writing. And, I’ve found myself writing more poems, a pleasant surprise, and enjoying using language in fresh ways. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Stanley Fish’s provocative and helpful How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One). It is a spirited meditation on sentence craft. I highly recommend it.
So, as fall approaches and we turn naturally inward, I pose to you these free writes: ‘The writer I was meant to be…’.Try that for ten minutes and then try ‘The writer I am right now at this moment’ for ten minutes. Compare the two lists and reflect on patterns, similarities, differences, challenges and opportunities.
And, finally have you written 100 beautiful sentences this year? Is that an interesting or worthy goal for you? To answer this question might mean making some time to pour over your journal entries, blog posts and other writings. I see you curled up in comfortable warm clothing, as the leaves are turning outside, with a cup of soup near by and lavishing attention on your prose.
These exercises might seed something in you that ripens later this year or in 2012.