This is going to be bad. This is going to make me a hypocrite to the now hundreds of students I’ve taught blogging over the course of my years working with Writing Pad.
I’m going to ease into the confession (that’s already in the headline of this post) with a story about how I figured it out.
Yesterday I read a little of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, a kind of handbook for writers, by a writer. Anne talks about the fact that her father, also a writer, woke up every morning and wrote for a few hours. Then, after breakfast, he got to his actual writing work. The first writing was free writing. You could probably call it journaling if he wrote it in a journal but I think if it’s on typewriter/computer it’s free writing. Anne says he woke up at 5:30am every single day so he could get this free writing in before having a morning meal with his kids and sending them off to school. 5:30! Back to the journaling v. free writing thing for a second; I feel like if it’s at night it’s closer to being actual journaling but the morning hour lands it squarely in the free writing category. You?
I never free write.
I sit down and start writing things that are not assigned to me (self or otherwise), but it is not with freedom; it is with a goal in mind: finish a blog post during the time I am sitting, get out one full scene of a TV show idea I’ve been brainstorming, try (again) to nail the op-ed about Hillary that I’ve been trying to write since she lost.
Free writing (or journaling if it’s post 8pm? 9?) is done completely without purpose. You have a thought – or no thoughts – and you sit down and get words out on paper. Any words. Free write about the way the light hits your desk in the morning (but not at 5:30am because there is no light then?), free write about how much you love your dog but also never want another puppy again, free write about the fact that you love cheese with all your heart. It doesn’t matter. The point is the process. I know this because I tell every single student that I’ve ever taught that the key to getting your writing brain going is regular free writing. I explain that writing is a muscle that atrophies if you don’t use it. I say free writing is how to discover voice. I claim that the real ideas you should be pursuing will come out in this format. I promise that if you write without pressure over your head you won’t hate writing and so you’ll keep doing it.
And as I sit there spewing all this Anne Lamott-stolen wisdom I think I free write. I free write all the time. I free wrote my last blog post. Had a kernel of an idea. Sat down. Ended up with a post.
That is not free writing. What I’m doing right now is not free writing.
I woke up and told myself I was going to write a blog post about free writing. I have given myself roughly one hour to get this post done. It will follow a structure that I predetermined in the bathroom as I washed my face before sitting down to write this post.
Enough with the confessions.
Why don’t I free write?
Idea #1: I don’t think I need to. That’s gross-sounding but feels true. Ideas come to me quickly. I write with speed on a topic I’m excited to get down. My writing muscles are in good shape.
Yeah…there was a time that was all true. It’s still true about some other writing that I do. But I haven’t written a blog post in weeks, and this kind of writing is important to me. Blog writing is voice writing, and it’s also a huge source of ideas and inspiration that ultimately become my other projects. So I need it, and I’m out of shape in it. So Idea #1 is cute but crap.
Idea #2 is one I very much hate. I don’t think I know how to free write… I feel like when I’ve sat down to do it I’ve felt lost.
Well, that’s not true. I have done Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” from her book, The Artist’s Way a few times in the past. That’s where you write every single morning, first thing in the morning, but in a stream of consciousness way. I got that writing done.
But I hated it.
Oof. That feels very negative to say.
So then is it Idea #3… I hate free writing?
This seems very bad. But it makes sense… I’m pretty uncomfortable with free time. I don’t like to be left with lots of unstructured hours, especially if I’m dealing with some tough things in my life.
And with that very uncomfortable and odd realization, I would like to stop writing this blog post.
…With that realization that arrived in my brain as I wrote sentences that went beyond what I’d planned to write.
Guys, I think I free wrote. And I landed somewhere scary and uncomfortable. And now I want to stop.
Idea #4: free writing brings up honest thoughts and honest thoughts are uncomfortable and I despise discomfort.
But is this discomfort more uncomfortable than what it’s felt like to let this blog go unwritten for weeks on end?
I guess we’ll find out.
I’m going to free write for real until Monday. Then we’ll see what’s what.