Free Writing

Writing that doesn’t cost anything.  Writing not bound by rules or directed by genre.  Writing that flows and changes and ebbs with thoughts.  Writing that discovers its own rhythm.  Writing that may reveal a gem or may be saved and read later with a pile of other free writing to discover a trend or a nagging hesitation in one’s style.

Free writing as opposed to costly writing?  Writing you pay through the nose for?  Writing that allows dangling prepositions? Really.

I’m still reading Peter Elbow’s Vernacular Eloquence and absorbing what speaking can bring to good writing.  And, of course, I loved finding out that the effectiveness of free writing has been studied.  College students (I know, a subspecies) were examined who did daily free writing for a time and those who were instructed in other modes, such as structure, etc. The free writers did better writing for on demand essays than did the other groups.  Yay!

Why is free writing in terms of school writing deemed such a waste.  I mean, what standard are we addressing?  What are we producing?  (How about fluency and thought organizing skills?)  There’s such a raft of laws in school writing — myths, as Donald Murray correctly labels them.

So, today is a holiday, part of an entire week of celebrating puttering at home, lunching with friends and then my family comes over Friday afternoon for our festivities.  They go on into the midday Saturday with sleepovers.

Being on holiday and not mindful of the clock, I feel extra free to do free writing.  I don’t have to have a story.  This moment watching the wind stir the leaves in the back yard, and small birds flitting from branch to wire, while the sky darkens into a soft grey blue, instead of lightens.  The north bay will get some rain and the mountains will get lots of snow.  Here, in the south bay, we will get a chilly breeze and a cloudy day.

Certainly a reader won’t follow without sensory details.  And so my mind won’t follow an abstract thought very long without bringing it into focus with an analogy.

The opposite of free writing might be constrained writing.  Planning writing and structuring how it will go in advance is not a bad thing to do, for some projects, perhaps.  But, in general, writing is like cooking or painting.  One doesn’t work the plan.  Well, I don’t in the kitchen. I have endured the discipline of French cooking from recipe books and that was good exercise.  However, I cannot cook by the book.  You can kiss by the book, if you want, but recipes are general information and hints for secret seasonings.  They are not composing in a saute pan.

I should not say much about painting because it has been so long since I’ve actually sat down with watercolors and painted.  But I remember that, even with a view of the bay at Pacific Grove in front of me, and the wild play of light through waves and over dunes, I have to experiment and play with what happens on that slab of watercolor paper.

So free writing has another advantage, if one takes it up as a habit, say, like exercising on a cycle, doing arms weights, meditating, etc. It is a playful approach.  A let’s-see-what’s-up kind of start.  It allows felt-sense and it lets the words themselves drive turn of phrase.  The thoughts from the writing create the next bit of writing.

The story of my thinking and the sheer joy of having time during the day to sit at my tidied up writing desk will have to suffice.  I do have a bigger writing project.  I’ve wanted a project bigger than blogging and it has come to mind.  However, it is a collaborative with two other teachers.  I am going to trust my free writing to take me into those memoirs.  Yes, there’s always still going to be fix it up “dental drafts” and critical editing, but so much depends upon (not the red wheel barrow) the flexible mind that can talk onto a page.







4 responses to “Free Writing”

  1. Hopefully with a few days off, I will be able to enjoy some free writing time. I love to just open my notebook or computer and just let the words flow. Sounds heavenly! By the way, this is my first time to your blog and after reading some more slices, I will be back! Glad I found you guys.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Let’s hear it for Free Writing. One never knows where it might lead. Always an adventure.


  3. Just found you! Love your message and your “free” and beautiful writing.


  4. I’m glad you mentioned Peter Elbow’s book as it’s one I want to read, so I succumbed to the pull and ordered it before finishing reading your beautiful, lyrical post.

    I know teachers who keep lovely notebooks filled w/ musings, little snippets, and couplets of thoughts accompanied by images. These starts and stops inspire me. I tend to write w/ a plan in mind, but I also have often thought about writing as symbolized conversation and/or speech. Recently, I’ve been reading about “speech act theory” and “conversation analysis.”

    I think of free-writing as what we give ourselves. I like loop-writing activities in the classroom and have seen their impact on student writing as kids learn to free their minds and let ideas spill onto the page.


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