Tag Archives: freewrite

Basic Instinct

Budapest chain bridge lion and moon

My gut has never lied to me. I might ignore my instinct (often do). But I know I shouldn’t, and time and time again, it shows me it knows what it is talking about. I’m in Budapest this weekend, in a farce – which I should have known better than to get myself entangled – my instinct had me well warned. But that’s what you get for not listening to your gut. Nevermind, at least I get to see my Budapest people, the greatest friends that ever walked the earth.

Instinct. Writers tap into something akin to instinct when we write. We usually do so via a freewriting exercise. Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is instinct in control, sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…


Through the Looking Glass

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”, a parallel universe perhaps, where these characters and stories truly exist.

 

 

Image

My no. 1 flat in Budapest – photo Nannette Vinson

Clearly, that “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Personally, I’ve had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas- though I hesitate to say if this was a spiritual event or just the  way the brain works in creative mode.

And it is a rare enough event – I can never conjure ‘the writing rapture’ but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when it does, it’s a  magical moment when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

All we can do is sit down to write every day- most days you’ll get coal but if you keep at it, the diamond muse will show up sooner or later.


It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…

Tok Jo! (Hungarian for ‘Pumpkin Good’ or ‘Perfect’) a painting by me, 2003

Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…


Pop that Page

Put some magic on the page

 

It’s dawn 6am and you’ve risen early just to get those ‘morning pages’ done. And you’re staring at a blank sheet. Writer, you need warm up.

Just as many painters will apply a beige wash to a blank canvas to stop it looking so virgin – you’ll need to put something down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Next, do a non-dominant hand exercise. If you are right-handed, then pick up a pen and start to write with your left. If you’re on a laptop, then type “The quick brown fox…” with your left hand alone. If you’re left-handed, apply vice vearsa.

Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow. When you’ve written out the fox/dog sentence a few times, continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing enough for you to turn your attention to that story you were working on before – or read over your freewrite, there might be the kernel of something worth working on.

Now, I’m off to take my own advice…


Words don’t come easy…

words words words

As a linguist and a writer, I love words. However, as a teacher of creative writing, I know that the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common ‘fault’ you’ll find in the work of novice writers.

Insecurity will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – with the result akin to an over ‘bling-ed’ Christmas tree. The advanced writer will ‘show’ an emotion/atmosphere/interpretation without  resorting to a heavy-handed sprinkling of descriptive words.

It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted English having sprung from French and German, so there are English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). And with such a lavish spread on offer, it is hard for the newbie writer to exercise restraint. Oh but, to improve, you must.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. English has magpied extensively from many languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth. I’ve just got to be careful about over using ‘exotic’ words in my prose. It can look pretentious.

And you don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing. Romance type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”. SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation…


Displacing the wall

Anyone for graffiti?

 

Sit at computer, bring up blank page, make a cup of tea. Sit at computer, look at blank page, do the washing up. Duration: 1 hour. Word count: 0

 

If this sounds like your typical writing pattern, you’ve got plenty of company. The sudden urge to do housework, rearrange books, check your bank statement- when you really ought to be writing is known as ‘Displacement activity’.

 

Displacement activity is the bane of a writer’s life. It’s the phrase writers have for all the stuff you do that is not the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be doing. Avoidance is probably a more readily understood term, but doesn’t sound half as writerly. What happens is a little ‘displacement monkey’ in your mind distracts you from the task at hand, by urging you to ‘make another cup of tea/check the TV guide/your bank account/ebay/post on this blog : ) rather than crack on with that difficult piece of dialogue you’re trying to get down.

 

I don’t believe displacement activities are wholly bad. I feel they sometimes happen for a reason. Perhaps what you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your mind and after you’ve bought those gloves on ebay, it will all come together. However, I admit, I think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office… I know a few writers who keep their displacement activity on hand – as another creative hobby such as painting, and they believe one such activity complements and feeds the other. So, they may start painting and then half way through THAT activity they’ll turn back to their writing as a displacement activity for their painting and so on…

 

As with everything in writing, if you find your displacement activity works for you, then go knock yourself out with it. If it is a hindrance, then find a way to stop it distracting you such as getting a room with no internet connection…


What’s Your Time?

Clock feature on Wells Cathedral

It is said that the closer the brain is to the sleeping state, the more creative it is. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write.

The resultant notes are called “morning pages”. Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will simply jot down the very first words that come to mind that day. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind from elsewhere.

Just as the waking moments are a bridge from the sleeping state into sober reality – the hour before you go to bed is often a creative time with the brain slipping into that semi conscious state.  Hence there are plenty of writers who write late at night.

And just to show that there are no rules, there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day when all of life’s busyness is in full swing (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).

So, I guess the point is that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment. Find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write. Likewise, writers have very personal tastes regarding an environment conducive to writing. There are those who like music or TV buzz in the background and those who can only write in silence. Find whatever works for you.


Wells, ah well.

Vicar’s Close, Wells, the oldest continuously inhabited street in existence, apparently.

 

So, I didn’t place at the Wells Literary Festival, the comp I’d been shortlisted for- but I did get to spend a weekend in nearby Wales with my sis and a day out in Wells – probaby England’s prettiest metropolis (and definitely its smallest).  I’ve also advanced no further than the shortlist with the Meridian Autumn comp – results out yesterday. Which leaves only the HISSAC longlisting for me to watch out there on the horizon- the shortlist will be announced on Thursday.

A friend said that winning sometimes blunts the urge to continue – so I’m meditating on that thought today.

 

How are all the six monthers going?


Stories from the 11th Dimension?

I’m told many writers feel ideas are sometimes fed to them from “somewhere else”. That “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Certainly, I have had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas. This is a rare enough event – I can never conjure it but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when they do, they are really magical moments when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

So who knows… one thing’s for sure, if you keep on working those brain-gym exercises, freewrites and the spidergrams – you’ll get something of the ‘writing rapture’ soon enough. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this….?

A friend sent me this Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk in which she “muses” on this topic. I think it’s must view for all creative types.


Work it, Work it – Brain Gym for the Scribe.

You’re staring at a blank sheet, it’s 6am and you’ve risen early just to get those ‘morning pages’ done. However, all your brain can compute at cock crow is that there is a sheet in front of you and its screaming white empty and going nowhere.

You need brain gym.

Just as many artists will apply a beige wash to a blank canvas to stop it looking so freaking virgin – you’ll need to put something down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Next, do a non-dominant hand exercise. If you are right-handed, then pick up a pen and start to write with your left. If you’re on a laptop, then type “The quick brown fox…” with your left hand alone. If you’re left-handed, apply vice vearsa. Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow.

When you’ve written out the fox/dog sentence a few times, continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing enough for you to turn your attention to that story you were working on before – or read over your freewrite, there might be the kernel of something worth working on.

Work it, Scribe!