Thursday, March 16, 2006

Writing Tip: Freewriting Fun

If you're a writer, nothing's more intimidating than the blank page and the pressure to be brilliant. Here's a tip I learned from Robert Ray, he of the Weekend Novelist fame, and from the incomparable Natalie Goldberg. If you haven't read her writing books, you're missing out. Writing Down the Bones should be on every aspiring author's Already Read-It shelf.

You know the situation. You're stuck. You don't know where to go next or what to do. Your characters are lifeless and it's entirely possible the Great American Novel you've been pounding away on may actually be...Not So Great.

Here's a solution, and it works every time. Grab some paper. My favorites are the large yellow pads with light blue lines. In fact, I write most of my first drafts on them, page by messy page.

Find a pen, a really good one with fast ink. Black is a good, strong color. Kick off your shoes and sit in a comfortable place near a timer or a clock. Turn off your email (it'll ding and interrupt you) and definitely unplug the phone.

Now, choose a starting line. Maybe your character is entering a room. Maybe he's getting off a bus or she's about to tell her husband that dark secret of hers. Maybe it's an emotional scene or something toe-curling scary. Write one sentence to set the stage, and don't worry if it's not the best thing you've ever written.

Set your timer for twenty minutes and go. Just go.

Use that flat sentence like a swimming pool diving board - the old kind with lots of bounce that could flip you all the way to the shallow end. No lifting of the pen, no spell check, and no crossing out. Let the words flow, whether they're good bad or ugly or hardly make sense at all.

The internal editor is on vacation, at least for these blessed twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later you'll have maybe three or four pages of illegible scrawl, but I'm willing to bet you'll find magic in all that muck. The next scene, a new character, a string of words that sings out and begs you to build on them.

See? Feels good doesn't it? You've got some good stuff to type into that manuscript and maybe you've broken through a wall, or a point of fear.

You're a real writer after all.

Now do it again. And again. And again.


Blogger Desperate Writer said...

I've had WDTB on my shelf for years, but haven't read it yet!! But I am familiar with freewriting, and should do it more often. I just did a bit this last week, and it tricked me out of a stuck spot. :)

9:24 AM  
Blogger ScottMcKinley said...

There's something about the yellow pad that's very attractive. The white ones don't hold the same appeal. It's got to be yellow.

It sounds like the pen is important, too. Maybe I need to dump the ball points. I'm not sure I know what kind of pen to get.

If I only had the right pen, then I could be a great writer.

11:07 AM  
Blogger ScottMcKinley said...

If you try to reach Britta and can't, wait exactly 20 minutes and try again.

11:10 AM  
Blogger dee said...

I just got a great little book a couple of weeks ago called "the writer's book of Matches" is a book full of one liners that are intended to be used for this purpose......its great...

12:31 PM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

DW - let me know when you get to WDTB. It's a truly great book. (And I'm not at all surprised you already had it on your shelf!)

1:41 PM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Yes, Scott, the yellow is a must. Not sure why. Maybe the white is too washed out and empty?

I'll think about it and get back to you in 20 minutes.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Dee - the Matches book sounds great. Who's the author?

1:43 PM  
Blogger dee said...

it was compiled by the staff at fresh boiled peanuts....its on amazon......

7:52 AM  
Blogger Kern said...

I find yellow frightening and uncomfortable. It is the color of CAUTION!, SLOW DOWN! and DANGER! It says "be careful, you're about to get hurt." i.e "Who do you think you are? Brokers can't be writers! They are not smart enough!"

My beautiful wife, I know you have had a long love affair with the yellow pad, and I would never wish to interfere. Will white work just as well?

6:19 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

I'm so sorry, but yes, it must be yellow. For me anyway.

You feel free to get on down with your "white pad" self. You're smart enough, you're good enough, and doggone it, people like you!

9:08 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Fresh boiled peanuts have a staff?

9:09 AM  

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