Monday, June 20, 2011

Art of the Freewrite

And once again, I've had too much other stuff going on this week to produce any interesting new content. Think of this post as a small down payment toward more substantive updates in the future. (Also: drawing is difficult and time consuming.)

Earlier today I was looking through an old notebook and found a freewrite I remember doing about a year ago. It's really not long or good enough to be the the centerpiece of my weekly obligation to the Web Log Sphere, Let's turn this into a participatory event.

Though I don't often do much freewriting, it can be an eminently invaluable exercise. Its main function is as a laxative for the part of the brain that tells the hand what letters to write. When you find yourself struggling to put an idea into words or laboring to produce an idea worth putting into words, one of the best methods of unclogging the works is to stop thinking about what you're writing and just write. Sit down, look at what's around you, and jot down your thoughts as they come. They probably won't be brilliant. You almost definitely will not end up with something worth mailing to The New Yorker. But you will often surprise yourself, and you can sometimes produce something to which you can hold on for future use. (Personally, I disagree with the Beats' "first thought, best thought" credo. The first thought provides the raw material for subsequent thoughts to chisel into form.)

Below this I've typed up the product of that freewriting session from last year. These are my unprocessed, undeliberated, and possibly addlebrained thoughts from a five-minute period last summer. By reading this text here you are agreeing to to click the "comments" link below and post a freewrite of your own within the next two days. Sit down somewhere for five minutes, take in your surroundings, and write without thinking, then post what you came up with. Should you choose to read on without posting a freewrite of your own, you will be breaking the obligation to which your reading and understanding this sentence has binded you, and that would be kind of a dick thing to do.

And now, here's some stuff I jotted down in a notebook last year without really thinking it over:

Dull drab Sunday afternoon. By the pond. Damselflies fan their wings and scuttle through the air in lazy amours. Dragonflies pursue dragonflies over the water in pointed, angled paths.

Ripples: fish from below or discrete drops from above, distorting the apparitions of birch leaves on the surface.

I toss a stone.

Ripples meeting ripples, ripples changing ripples. New thoughts impelling old ideas on new trajectories, old thoughts putting new ideas to harder scrutiny, redirecting each current even as its position becomes clearer.

Too much to ask for stillness. The birches stirring in the wind above, undulating in the pond below.

The dragonflies haven't tired of chasing each other yet.

A damselfly lands on my bare big toe.

Not Thoreau's sparrow, but a compliment is a compliment.

If you've read this far, you owe me five minutes of your own transcribed thoughts. Get cracking.


  1. Committing to memory to commit tomorrow's poem to memory.

    To commit myself to it, as an asylum holds the attention of all madness as all madness is lost in the asylum, so will the stage be the asylum of my commitment.

    Asylum in the sense of freedom or commitment?
    To seek asylum and to seek asylum.

    Freedom-commitment binary which may not be dialectical at all, but is stationed in dialect.

    Words with diameter,
    spirometry breadth,
    I hope to see you tomorrow,
    And to inspire breadth.

    The inspired word--fuck what ya heard!

  2. I meant to inspire depth. Guess I'm not deep after all. Just in deep shit, usually.

  3. (don't know why caps aren't working on this terminal, not a stylistic choice)

    loud outdoors.
    freeway, airport.
    birds, doors.
    windblown litter.
    windshook plants.
    ice shuffling in a refreshing beverage
    car doors.
    cars moving about the parking lot, side streets
    slams from inside the sub shop
    dangling keys
    pencil on paper

  4. "Every time I see her face, it reminds me of so long ago. She hasn't changed.

    We were all younger then. There were six of us at a tea party themed purple and green, I the boy among five women. I never said much, and I wasn't saying much that day, either.

    But they were laughing. About the television they had watched, the dirty things they had said, the lovely music they listened to, the awkward stories they would now write. Nothing left untouched. But I notice her, because she laughs along, but does not say much. Yet, it's so easy to see that she thinks so much more. I cannot tell about what. She does not seem the type to worry about appearances, and even if she is, she has nothing to worry about, for she has a natural Indian beauty about her with a smoother face and smoother hair. And it is not about what is present here, or what is present here, for though her physical countenance is here, her eyes are watching for something more. It is simply beyond my understanding.

    The pie comes out, and it is asked, "who wants?" There are three of us that accept, the rest denying, a perfect split. I want pie. She does not. I wonder if I look fat to her. I wonder if she'd care.

    My relationship with pie goes as follows:

    Me: No. I will not eat you.
    Pie: What, am I not sweet enough or you? Or is my crust not firm enough? Or is my filling too-
    Me: Fine! [I stab the pie with my fork]
    Pie: gwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa~

    My relationship with pi goes as follows:

    Me: No. I will not eat you.
    Pi: What, am I not 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939-
    Me: Fine! [writes in "i" next to pi]
    Pi: Gwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa~

    On both occasions, I gave into irrational desires and turned something real into something imaginary."

    It is incredibly hard for me to stay focused on one topic as is, and letting go of all mental restraint...well, "mental laxitive" indeed.

  5. "Your an idiot Pitchfork, I have no ability to write about my surroundings since I have ADD. My thoughts simply drift to w/e I care about or w/e I like to daydream about. In a worst cast scenario I'd end up writing like the streams of consciousness format. This brings up the problems I always have: I hate writing, yet I must be able to write well enough to convince people what I'm trying to tell them is worth their time. I have to write well enough to overcome the urge to TL;DR, something which you often can't seem to do I'm sorry to say... [checks article again to see if I've interpreted "freewriting" correctly]... This is such a huge problem for me because whenever I try to put my idea into words, to edit it, to make everything come out correctly, it seems like a daunting task and I never get around to it. What's more I have to edit it, to keep it short and to the point: I believe you touched upon how that can actually make your works better than when you can write as much as you want.... I am so disappointed the computer didn't copy my whole message but just the above paragraph with Crtl+C just like it has done in the past while I logged into blogspot. Fuck blogspot. Fuck the world."

  6. Seriously though, I touched upon how I couldn't tell if what I wrote was worth writing and the only way I could know is if you think it was a good read. So now I can definitively say it was a waste of my fucking time. Damnit.

    Interesting way to write though. Can it be used to write first, get opinions, and edit later?

    Also, does anyone else get the feeling Ayn Rand only did freewriting?

  7. Thanks everyone for posting and sorry for taking so long to comment. I don't want to give the impression I didn't read any of this, but what comes out of a freewrite is often hard for another reader to constructively respond to.

    But yeah, Zade: it's good for producing raw material to use later -- usually after a lengthy process of elaborating and refining.

  8. Messy desk. My only plate has tomato sauce on the rim. It's too small. The 99 pence sticker is still in the center. My camera bag is behind it. It's holding my change. Pounds, two pounds, things too small to care about. I should count it and use it. I won't. Peanut Butter is too small here. After a loaf it's already gone. Toothpaste belongs in the bathroom,not by the peanut butter. Floss is fine out here. The lamp is bright and I confuse it for the overhead light. Bonbons shrink in my mouth until they're soft and I try to chew but it gets stuck to the back of my tooth. I dig it off with a finger nail but it got stuck to my cup shaped molars and I can't get it off. Maybe it'll stick there until melts. The draft at the window isn't keeping my sodas cold. I shouldn't be drinking soda. I have boxing tomorrow. I should be sleeping. I want to run in the morning. I won't heal up after a nap and twelve hours before the first lesson but I feel like I should be active and burn off some fat and water before I go to the first lesson. I want to blow them away, knock out some Brits. Not in a mean way. I just want to say I did it. There's too many wires on my desk. Ethernet cable, phone charger, computer charger. The switches here are weird. Down is on, up is off. It's backwards. Outlets have switches. Mark Twain is on my desk. Not the real Twain. His book. Innocents Abroad. It seemed like good travel reading but he hasn't talked about the UK yet.

    Five minutes and not a paragraph. It was fun. I do this every so often but usually I sit outside on the balcony or in the garden or in a park and do it. Sometimes it's less of a free write and more of a journaling experience. It seems like good B-roll when I do that. Stuff that could serve a variety of purposes then be tweaked for the current one. It's always nice to have on hand in case you're stuck.