Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Freewriting’

Freewriting First, Revision Second

In Freewriting, Revising, Writing on June 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Don’t get out the red pens until after the writing occurs to keep away the pesky internal editor.

Fast writing lets the words flow without worry and the internal editor.

With fast or freewriting, the idea is to not think about or plan your writing and instead to sink into your imagination. Express whatever is there in you, and then figure it out later. Realize, though, once there is written content, the words and language are containers for thoughts but aren’t always exact.

In other words, you can go back and revise. And revise again.

Simplicity or Complexity

Before revision can happen, you either start with simplicity or complexity.

With simplicity, one approach is speedwriting, writing as fast as you can, knowing the goal is to write as many words as possible within a certain timeframe. You write what comes to mind, getting rid of the internal editor, saving the planning and organizing of the content and the plotting of the story for a later step.

Or, you might start with complexity. You turn difficult, hard-to-grasp thoughts into lucid form, and then fit them into language that makes sense. Yo can make the writing clear and concise and expressive of what you intended through the revision process.

When I’m revising, I like to do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. I also think of the overall structure of the content or story, usually in the second edit. I probably should reverse the process, but I can’t get past the little errors before getting to the big picture.

Here’s a sample revision checklist of things to look for, such as:

  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense.
  • Omit needless words to get to the essential meaning or intention.
  • Notice consistency in verb tense.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Vary the sentence structure.
  • Identify areas where transitions are needed.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.

For my fiction writing, I try to spot any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I ask if the overall story makes sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained? Are the characters well-developed and seem like real people, or are they flat with predictable traits?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits:    

  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
  • Write visually and make sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
  • Tighten the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.

And most importantly, make sure you’re showing and only telling when necessary.

Writing from big-wheels to Big Wheels

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Mastering something like writing is like mastering the wheels of your life.

Once you know how to ride a bike, you don’t forget—and the same goes with writing. The old skills are stored away as you move on to the bigger wheels, except in those cases where you get stuck, or experience writer’s block or burnout.

For me, I started with a big-wheel bike—a four-wheeled, pedaled toy I rode in the driveway because the road I grew up on was on a hill.

By four or five, I upgraded to a tricycle and then to a bigger tricycle, which now hangs upside down in my younger brother’s garage, a sentimental reminder of our childhood. We both rode the red trike, and we both started with training wheels on our bicycles—a step up in our wheels with our father running behind us, yelling to keep straight, turn, pedal or brake.

At 17, I got “real wheels” with my first car (a bright orange Mustang), followed by a pickup truck and a trailer, but never equipment, semis or boats because of fear and a lack of desire and skill. I arrived at a stopping point in my growth, similar to how I got stuck by writer’s block or writer’s burnout in a creative shutdown.

These shutdowns caused guilt, fear and curiosity about why it was I couldn’t write. I stopped and reflected, questioned, got edgy and waited, eventually learning that I could take steps to get out.

Writer’s block—temporarily being unable to produce new work or come up with new ideas—can stem from a sudden lack of confidence, a fear of completion, the seeking of perfection or taking on a project that seems too daunting.

Alternatively, burnout is long-term exhaustion in writing, work or even a hobby involving disengagement, a lack of energy, diminished interest and a reduced sense of accomplishment. In a job situation, it can be caused by constant stress and feelings of helplessness, such as working for low pay without hope of a raise or promotion.

The key is to realize that writing is a process of discovery. It’s a growth of experience—taking on larger and larger wheels as you put in the hours—and it’s a relationship between you and your world, you and your characters, and you and your creations. A blockage or burnout, once over, can help you feel revived and re-energized to return to writing, having stepped back to think about why you couldn’t do what you loved and figured out a few methods and techniques to go forward.

Focus on the process, not on the final product through freewriting, journaling, brainstorming and engaging in nonjudgmental writing with the inner editor turned off until the editing stage. Focus not on writing to get published but for the internal rewards.

Just like riding each level of wheels, realize it was all about play until you got to the vehicles that require state-issued licenses, or the Big Wheels. Enjoy the little wheels as you experience them, instead of putting so much expectation on each word that you write, type and think out during the process.

At the end, you’ll have both the little and the Big Wheels, the process and the product.

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.

iJournal, therefore I am

In 52 Writing Topics, Journaling, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

Each journal in this pile has a specific purpose in my writing life.

In my quest to find and write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I’m going to veer off course to talk about what I like to call pre-writing.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as writing drafts for stories or playing with the lines and words of a poem.

Like an artist’s sketchpad to practice drawing skills, journaling can be a place to practice and play around with language and ideas.

A journal can be used for freewriting, a form of writing that involves writing nonstop for a certain period of time, say five to 10 minutes, without constraint or a specific goal in mind.

It can be for capturing snippets of conversation, recording details you observe in your environment and offering a timeout to get you to that space where you are ready to write.

I have nearly a dozen journals, and I cannot live without any of them.

I have my diary journal where I write down what I do each day, my responses to the things that annoy and please me and my plans for the next year. I do this every time I start a new journal (usually in June, for some reason) and at the beginning of the new year.

I have another journal that I call my play journal. It has different colored sections that I’ve designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts that I can use when I’m blocked.

I have a journal for tracking where I send my work. I put exes through the lines when I get rejection letters, turning this journal into one that I don’t like as much as my others. (I gave one of the rejection form letters to my dog and she ripped it up, and quire frankly, I quite enjoyed her slobber marking my disappointment).

A few other uses for journals I’ve run across include:

* Writing exercises you want to try.

* Notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.

* Character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions. (I’m just starting this one after seeing that one of my writer friends uses a pasteup board to display the identity of her characters and key ingredients to the plot of her novels.)

* Photos of settings and the buildings and places in your story.

I’ve found that journaling shouldn’t be a chore and by journaling regularly, ideas come to you for new stories, ways to describe things and even new types of journals.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality or grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write and loving doing so while the words spill off the end of your fingertips.