deadlifting 25 minutes of words every morning
Freewriting! With the timer and the prompts and the stuff! Like morning pages, it's one of my daily processes that I sometimes feel the need to defend. Although less so, since the link between freewriting and Actual Finished Publishable Work is a lot more obvious. Still, on days when I have this short story to work on that should have been finished ages ago and no end is anywhere in sight, I sometimes wonder whether it would be more productive to just skip the timed writing and get straight to the grind.
No. It would not. Or, well, maybe it would be more productive, short-term, but I think there's long-term value I'd be missing out on.
Thoughts! I have them. Today they are numbered.
- Freewriting is where the stories come from. Story ideas come from everywhere: dreams, prompts, what-ifs, misheard lyrics, misread words, stray thoughts juxtaposed with other stray thoughts. Problem is, they never come complete with story attached. And thinking about it only takes an idea part of the way to its story. The rest of the way has to be traveled on the page.
- Freewriting is where stuck becomes unstuck. Whether I'm stuck on turning an idea into a story, or stuck on turning a story draft into a final draft, things often get unstuck if I set a timer and noodle to myself about the bottleneck. The timer is important here. Without it, I'd stop the noodling at the first impression of being out of ideas. But since I have to keep going until the timer dings, I end up pushing myself past "out of ideas" and into the territory known as "Where did that come from? What is my brain? Am I complaining? No."
- Freewriting is exercise. Exercise builds endurance. Endurance makes things look possible. I've been rereading Dorothea Brande's 1934 classic Becoming a Writer, which is one of the most compassionate books for writers you can lay your eyeballs upon. It aims not to teach writers the nuts and bolts of the craft, but rather those skills that the writer must assimilate before the nuts and bolts will be of any use to her. One of those skills is the capacity to write for extended periods of time without suffering fatigue of the body1 or the mind. She teaches that skill by basically assigning the student a freewriting session every morning, first thing upon waking, and gradually pushing the time spent in this pursuit until "the actual labor of writing no longer seems arduous or dull."
- Freewriting brings home the limitlessness of ideas. My freewriting file is called "Daily Ideas" after the crisis I was facing at the time I started it. I was beginning to feel like I had no other stories in me than the handful I was currently avoiding revising, and those were becoming poisoned by the weight of procrastination and dread I'd invested them with by avoiding them so long. So I began my Daily Ideas file in order to argue myself back into believing that I can come up with endless story ideas. I asked myself for no more than one a day, no matter how brief, stupid, petty or incomplete. It could be two sentences. It could be two pages. But it had to be a new (to me) idea. Adding the 25-minute freewriting component came later... and had the unexpected and sometimes daunting effect of turning those two sentences into a viable rough draft. Oh, no: Another story for me to avoid revising. But set that aside for now. The result was feeling once more rich in raw material, supplied with more story ideas than I could possibly work to completion in my lifetime. And that's OK. It's surplus we're going for here, and daily freewriting achieves it.
So that's my defense of daily freewriting, and why I stole a precious half hour of my day to do it when a story rewrite was begging for completion.
Sadly, the current stuckiness of the rewrite doesn't lend itself well to freewriting. It's not that I don't know what needs to go there; it's that I can't seem to make it not sound stupid. So I keep writing and rewriting and tweaking and erasing and rewriting yet again the end of the scene. Maybe next freewriting session will be a series of rewriting that bit over and over and over again without deleting each attempt. Sounds boring, but something might break through. We'll see.
1"The typewriter has made the author's way more rocky than it was in the old days of quill and pen. However convenient the machine may be, there is no doubt about the muscular strain involved in typewriting; let any author tell you of rising stiff and aching from a long session. Moreover, there is the distraction set up by the little clatter of keys, and there is the strain of seeing the shafts continually dancing against the platen." (back)