Break Through Writing Resistance

Jeanette and I have found that the majority of participants in our classes, despite a lifetime of writing in one way or another, still have momentous challenges in getting their story down. New skills must be developed to capture a story with engaging, purposeful and focused prose. This is a hard pill to swallow. Any narrative (family history, memoir, and biography, and fiction) is built on a series of connected events that amount to a story. It also includes description, setting, context, characters, conflict, and a framing of events.

But back to the hard pill… Many among us of a certain age attended an educational system that had no idea for the wonder and creativity in writing. There are gifted teachers who ignite creativity, passion, and awareness in their students when teaching literature and literary arts, but they are too few. As a rule, government curriculum churns out students with an abhorrence of poetry, mortal fear of the essay (which, is actually a thing of beauty), and lock-step, laboured report assignments with nothing but resistance between the lines. This leads to lifelong avoidance of all but the “must do” writing tasks. Deciding to jump into a compelling personal story you want to tell is just the beginning. Without tools, support and lots of practice, the formerly ardent would-be writer has succumbed to resignation.

Don't get stuck at the train station of resignation! Photo courtesy Etienne Cote, Courtenay, BC.

Don’t get stuck at the train station of resignation! Photo courtesy Etienne Cote, Courtenay, BC.

BUT, we are not stopping the train at Resignation Station. We’re switching tracks to a new destination. It’s called recovery. An important step is to make friends and play with the very medium that intimidates. Freewriting and other directed writing strategies release resistance, free up your mind and your narrative voice, and develop confidence and fluency.

How Freewriting Works

Freewriting is a useful tool in many writing circumstances. It’s a painless and helpful first step in easing into productive or generative writing. It is entry level, simple, and has awesome rules.

• Set the timer – 10 minutes will do it for freewriting newcomers

• Start writing and do not stop

• Never look back at what you’ve written

• Do not cross out words

• Do not think about spelling, punctuation or what the right word is

• Do not think about what you are doing – just write

• If you get stuck, write your last word over and over till a fresh thought emerges, keep going

• Stop when the timer rings.

Essentially – write and do not stop; follow your train of thoughts; do not judge or censor any of it. Don’t expect the results to be pretty. Do expect to find hidden gems and to learn something from the process. The beauty of freewriting? It is completely non-judgemental. Its immediate purpose is to warm you up and let you relax into a flow of thoughts with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard. The larger objective in “recovery” is to assure you that you CAN write without worry and fear; you CAN write comfortably and productively. Freewriting may feel awkward at first. It is opposite to conventional writing. Practice is key and it’s fun. Start with a first thought or an image or a memory you want to explore. Perhaps a single word piques your interest… explore it by freewriting and see where it takes you. Whenever you are stumped in any kind of writing and lose the thread – set the timer and start freewriting. It’s like bringing out the jumper cables when your battery is dead. It gets thoughts and ideas flowing again.

Find Out More About Freewriting

We all have an inner editor. Our schooling focused on errors (think of all that red ink). We are obsessed with mistakes and edit as we write. Half-remembered spelling and grammar rules haunt us. We even edit “unacceptable” thoughts and feelings. You can see how the inner editor blocks access to the means of production. Develop your ideas and fluidity with freewriting. Forget about the rules of writing. The rules will have their day soon enough.

Annette Yourk, Feb 1, 2014