Shelley Widhalm

Freewriting to Prewrite

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

Freewriting is a useful writer’s tool to get out of writer’s block, to tap into memory or to get started on a writing project, like those runners who first walk a lap or two as a warm-up exercise.

It is a concept invented by Peter Elbow, author of “Writing Without Teachers,” one of the books I was required to read as a master’s English student. He said, “Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you’re doing.”

The only rule of freewriting is to not stop writing.

Freewriting is a prewriting technique, a discovery process and a way to develop or find new ideas. It is writing without rules. You don’t need a topic and can jot down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if what you write is disconnected.

Freewriting can be for 5 or 10 minutes, or a length of time you choose. During that time, don’t stop writing. Don’t lift your fingers from the keyboard or stop moving your pen or pencil.

Here’s a freewriting exercise I did with the following 10-minute prompt: Write the story of some highlights (or lowlights) of your life.

Response: I never went there, the seemingly far-away dungeon we called the garage. Tricycles, bicycles, tools in the red fancy-name box with sliding-out drawers, work benches, gray cabinets form the disorganized, caked-on-dirt, boy’s world. My brother spent afternoons and weekends in Dad’s shop, while I was off playing Barbies, smacking my gum and dreaming about boys.

When the garage door was down, Dad’s workshop became my basketball court. Does he love me. He does if I make the free throw. I’d miss every time, at least when I’d make bets on boys. This was on summer nights when the crickets sang their sliding cello-like rhythms that floated above the heat.

The next day, a Saturday let’s say, Dad would be back in the shop, and Mom would be baking or reading, and I’d be in my bedroom drawing, or I’d have the music on and my cooling curling iron would become a microphone as I danced around, being a Material Girl or Like a Virgin.

Andy my brother would be in the shop, learning how to build things, how to cut wood, how to Sauder, how to do all these “boy things” I regret not learning when the lessons were free with the man I adore. I ignored my dad’s shop, because I was into girly stuff. I didn’t like to get dirty. And I had other things on my mind.

This now, in reflection, is a lowlight in my life, not exploring my other side when I was worried about keeping my hair perfect and my clothes pristine clean. When I think about my job, the one I love and hate, I wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t been so girly in my material world, crushing on boys, when all along my dad wanted me to come visit. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come back, not to his shop, but into his life as his princess. He’s the one who makes, fixes, builds and creates things for me, just because.

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