Saturday, February 24, 2018

Stop Talking to Yourself and Start Freewriting

I used to talk to myself. Not in a crazy way, but in a writerly way (which is still crazy). I’d talk to myself, trying to find a solution to my plot problems, stare at the blinking cursor, stand up, pace around until ruts are formed on the wooden floor. If the problem on the story gets too much, and my self-talk turns into a whirlwind of emotions and frustrations, then I close the file and tell myself “tomorrow.”

Productivity was low during those days. Best days would get me about seven hundred words, worse days would be zilch.

But one afternoon in Barnes & Noble, I discovered freewriting. I was skimming through Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I didn’t buy it because it was a small book, and I’ve already learned something from it (though I’ll get it eventually as a thanks).

Straight from wikipedia, freewriting is defined as thus:
“...a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism.”
I agree that it helps overcome apathy and self-criticism. I call freewriting as the grease for my writing cogs, the diuretic for my writing tubes (or the enema to my writing colon). You let loose and just write whatever comes to mind. Once I started freewriting, I saw my word count improve. Not by a whole lot, but writing became less painful.

I do this on a separate doc file. If I’m working on a manuscript, I name the freewriting file as follows: “freewriting.nameofmanuscript.docx”

Before I begin on my manuscript, I give myself a four-minute freewriting warm-up. No more. No less. Some say to do ten minutes, but personally I feel four minutes is sufficient. There is no rule to this so you can choose how many. But don’t overdo it, don’t let it detract from your manuscript. Procrastination can use this exercise as their mask.

Another benefit of freewriting is it helps diagnose plot problems. For example, while I’m writing on my manuscript, a character does something that is not in line with her motives, or her actions deviate from my outline. Then I’d get stuck, and I start talking to myself, mouthing off silently on how to fix the problem, on why did I arrive at this point, on how I’m a bad writer, on how I’m really really bad at this and I should stop writing and just work on my nine-to-five and…

You get the drill.

So instead of creating a whirlwind of unproductive thoughts and emotions, I decided to write it all down. It’s similar to how programmers find solutions to their buggy code. It’s called Rubber Duck Debugging where they talk to a rubber duck on their desk, explaining how their code works and how it’s supposed to work. This self-talk would eventually lead them to a solution. But for us writers, we need to write them down lest we invite self-doubt.

Unlike the warm-up, I don’t put a time limit on this freewriting diagnostics. The warm-up is for loosening you up; the diagnostic is for inviting ideas. You freewrite as much as you can just so you can punch through the block you are facing. It doesn’t take more than four minutes in my experience. And once a solution emerges, switch back to your manuscript and continue writing.

So why is freewriting better than self-talk? This is anecdotal, so take it with a grain. I believe freewriting is better because we turn our thoughts into something tangible. We transmute them from the ether of our consciousness into texts on our doc files. And these thoughts on the page are equal, no stronger than the other. If we let our thoughts float around in our minds, self-doubt often butts in and overstays their welcome. It’s like a party inside your noggin: one second you’re talking to your best-friend, the next second your obnoxious acquaintance comes in and switches the topic.

That’s my opinion on it. Your freewriting file is not meant to be read again. It is just there to receive, not to be consumed.

Except for this one. The following is an entry from one of my freewriting sessions:

Some word of enouragement. Ane editor at a short story place complimented myu writing, but siad that the one did not match with their magazine. So at least we have an idea that canceled is actual;ly funny and a contender. Anyway. That’s that. We have to move on. But that is what you are gouing to do. You are going to continue to write. You will always write and continue tow rite because the reason why yopua re weriting is because youb want to enter these simulations, enter these other lives adn then the flipside, youa re also hjioning your skills as a writer. You are always hjioning your skills and refining your process. Experimenting on your process. Maybe there is something that needs to be unleanrned or something, like bnad habits. Is there such things as bad habits. I think there is. That the bad habits of using passive and shit liket aht and also the was and stuff liket hat. I mean those can be used, but try to limit them. That i sthe thing. It is not really about YOU CANNT USE THAT. It really is about limit their use, but if there is nothing else, use them.t hat is what it is. Okay./ sof or the next short story. I t8hink i don’t think i have an idea yet. This is just basically a first person pov thing. So it might come of as stream of consciousness. Sop we hacve the set up rithgt? I mean, it is not conventiopnal and shit, but you need to learn hwot o do this shit. You need to learn how to control; these kinds of things. And i think you already have an idea of how things will be. You know. It hink you need to do ten minutes of copywork, thenhighlighting and then summarizing. I thin summarizing is kind of a good way to find out the flow of shit, you know. Why because you also get an idea of how you will contrnstruct your otulines, whicbh is good. Okjay,. So what else is there anyway? I dont htihijk there is anything else. Because the time is up. Time to write.

>>> Shit. So does he put the stuff in there? Does he put crap on it? The thing. The stuff. He injects his thoughts on a piece of stuff or something. You know. Will he do that? Or is he just going to talk to this guy?i think i like that other better. Don’t shy away. Jay. Don’;t so do it.

>>> so he has guarded some prisoners before. So what then? Well, isn’t that the case? If he has then. Well. Crap. I think you need to change the order then.

>>> Okay. How is it possible that he heard shit. Okay. So what is this clearing out

(NOTE: The main body of the freewriting entry is my four-minute warm-up. Underneath this body, are sentences with the “>>>” symbols; these are freewriting diagnostics where I had encountered a problem during my normal writing session.)
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