In addition to Bird by Bird I’ve also been reading Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow. Elbow is a gifted writer as he demonstrates in the introduction. He is funny in a self-deprecating way, but never seems as if he’s trying too hard to get a laugh from the reader. He also has some great ideas for helping uncover the writer within. One of these ideas is by doing three freewrites a week. Freewriting is when a writer (or anyone, actually) writes constantly for about 10 or 15 minutes. Elbow advises to keep writing no matter what, even if all that comes out is the same word repeated over and over. This exercise is to try and get all of the garbage out of the mind with expectations of finding something usable in all of the rambling. Similar to Lamott’s idea of “shitty first drafts,” this is another way for writers to write with no daunting expectations and then go back and see if anything interesting emerged.
I tried my first freewrite today, and I found it unexpectedly liberating. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 10 minutes and ended up writing for about a minute after the beeping interrupted me. The main problem I had was fighting my urge to go back and correct my mistakes. Before I attempt my next freewrite, I’ve decided I need to turn off the option that gives me the red and green squiggle marks under spelling and grammar mistakes. It was almost an obsessive-compulsive drive that made me want me to eliminate all the little reminders of my errors. As I reread through my freewrite, I didn’t really see anything substantial that jumped out at me as something to write more about, but it was very therapeutic to get the thoughts out of my head and down on paper. The freewrite was a lot of rambling about my plans for the weekend and being able to see my friends. At the end, I felt like my head was clearer which I wasn’t really expecting even though Elbow said it would happen. I want to try and do three a week, just for ten minutes before I start writing a blog entry or short assignment or revising something I’ve previously written. I’m looking forward to other tips from Elbow as I read more.