A late post this week due to a flurry of activity in the novel writing department. At least more of a flurry than there has been of late. Revising my second novel is certainly a quicker process than the first time around but I have noticed that continual revision has left the gauge on my creativity reservoir hovering scarily close to empty. Revision is a much more left brained activity than writing something new. It requires analysis, logic and objectivity, all left brain processes. Of course part of revision is adding in new detail, along with improving description and characterisation, all of which are definitely creative activities but it certainly doesn’t engage the right brain as much as new writing does.
As those who have read this blog before would know I’m a huge fan of freewriting (I write it as one word because it’s a whole process). Freewriting – also called timed writing, automatic writing or rapid writing, is all about switching off the logical, rational side of the brain and allowing whatever is stored away in your subconscious to surface. The “rules” of free writing are to keep your hand moving, don’t stop, don’t edit and to write if possible for a minimum of twenty minutes, the approximate length of time it takes for us to completely enter the flow zone. In short the idea of freewriting is to “not think” but to allow whatever is in your subconscious mind to unfurl itself onto the page.
This can be a challenging process. All through our lives, particularly in school, we’re taught to think carefully, consider what we write, get the punctuation correct and God forbid we should have any spelling mistakes. Our formal education conditions us to write perfectly every time. No wonder we find it difficult to relax and go with whatever gobbledygook rushes from our pen in the freewriting process. And that’s another thing – free writing should be done by hand. There’s a different connection between the pen and the hand than between the fingers and the keyboard.
Those who find free writing most challenging come up with a litany of excuses: I can’t read my writing; But I just write rubbish this way; I can’t think of anything. The list goes on. The whole point of freewriting is NOT to think. If you repeat the same word over and over it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you give in to the process. Ok, so a lot of what you write will be garbage. There will be many freewriting sessions that you’ll feel have been pointless. But the point is this: freewriting not only taps into your subconscious which means on good days you’ll uncover gems that you never would have found with more “rational” writing, it unclutters your mind and leaves you free to create fresher images when you do sit down to do more formal writing later that day. Julia Cameron recommends three morning pages every day just for this purpose – to clean out the garbage and clear the mind. If you happen to write something wonderful in the process it’s a bonus.
You might be familiar with this dancing girl test. Do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise? If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa. Most people see the dancer turning anti-clockwise. You can try to focus and change the direction if you want to test yourself.
The right brain is the side that uses imagination, images, intuition and feeling. It’s the side of your brain that switches on in free writing. I often use free writing in my classes and meet with a fair amount of resistance. But I can’t tell you how many times class members have read out a fabulous piece of writing they’ve been working on at home only to comment that it began as a freewriting exercise in class. The novel I’m currently working on was originally a Nano novel, 50,000 words written in November 2009 (for more information on National Novel Writing Month go to www.nanwrimo.org). And what is Nano? A month-long free writing festival of course. Nano it all about letting go of the need for perfection and churning out a first draft as fast as you can. Chris Baty, founder of Nano, has this to say in his guide-book No Plot? No Problem: “By giving yourself the gift of imperfection, you tap into the realms of intuition and imagination that your hypercritical brain normally censors.”
Which brings me back to where I started: revising and feeling blaaagh. I decided what I needed to do was some free writing. And yes, I did find it a challenge. After using the editing side of my brain every time I sat down at my desk it was hard to turn the key and allow that wild, untamed beast called the subconscious out of its cage. But once I opened the gate and kept writing all sorts of wonderfully incomprehensible phrases started spilling onto the page. Could I use any of it in my novel, or elsewhere for that matter? No, I couldn’t, but what I found I could do after a few sessions was to go back to my work in progress and create fresher images and scenes and feel re-inspired by what I was writing. I even came up with a few new scenes that I’d been resisting going anywhere near.
I also spent some time finding images of my characters in magazines and adding them to my scrapbook, which I’ve written about in this blog before http://pamelacook.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/image-inspiration/. So, by engaging both my right and left brain this week I feel like I’ve approached my revision in a much more creative way.
What do you do to keep your writing fresh as you’re revising?
What have been your experiences with free writing?