Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Like Steering Clouds: Freewriting and Mindfulness

Freewriting is arguably the single most important strategy for mindful writing. It carries benefits to both mindfulness and writing because it heightens awareness as well as reduces obstacles to writing. Most people rarely have the opportunity to see their own raw intrapersonal communication on the page since the bulk of written experience has an audience.

Freewriting can be defined as nonstop writing done without concern for grammatical convention or the comprehension of another reader. Because it reduces pauses and hesitations, freewriting avoids thinking about organization with all the future-orientated planning involved in any act of organizing and instead seeks to "simply" record the present. What type of present? The present life of the mind, consciousness in the moment. To learn more about freewriting, an excellent start would be the chapter in Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers or the edited collection Nothing Starts With N.

Mindful writing means sensing one's intrapersonal dialog. (Recall how we discussed in an earlier post Carl Rogers' notion that breakage in communication with others happens after breaks in talks with the self.) Freewriting leads to mindful writing because it makes our internal talk visible: we see and reread our own inner talk. 

This translation of inner talk to written text affects it: slows it down and steers it. Physical elements are introduced--the motions of handwriting or typing as well as the sight of the words on page or screen. For the first time, we have a transcript of our inner language with all its fragments, images, full sentences, changes in pitch, and fillers.

Suddenly, a pair of interlocutors are in the room: you, the person who is writing, and the text. Reading your inner talk (even if you throw away the freewrite without looking back, the slower pace from forming the letters makes you more a spectator to your words) triggers your alertness, engagement, and reflection. Inner talk doesn't then just sneak past us (mindlessness). The connotations and secretive persuasions of our inner words can't sweet talk us into the habitual or reactionary.

Unlike seated meditation, however, the awareness brought to us by a freewrite comes with the opportunity to steer it, to gently pursue areas of interest, to pin down a few clouds. Freewriting isn't entirely about awareness; it is an applied art for the purposes of writing. Unlike seated meditation, freewriting encourages us to interact and use our passing consciousness.

In this way, freewriting is a training ground for mindfulness. At the same time, it's highly pragmatic and an applied skill. Freewriting affirms the transience of the moment but in doing so allows the cognitive state of the writer to mirror the boundless possibility that stands outside our prescribed limitations. Not confined to a single thesis or its explication, you can gather an abundance of ideas and sensations. Select the most outstanding of these passing phrases, set it on the ground, and then repeat, seeing what freewriting can be evoked by it.  Freewriting may seem impressionistic, but it's a method for building monuments.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Push-Pull with the Voices of Other Writers

 You know you're developing an internal voice for writing when you find yourself avoiding or approaching other authors on the basis of how they'll affect your own voice during a writing session.

I'm reading an author right now with whom I've got a push-pull relationship. Her voice and in turn her ethos or stance can become too influential on some days, like a fascinating but strong-willed companion. But I have also become strong willed so it's a balancing act, deciding when to use her work to jump-start my day and when she is crowding me out. I need a sensor for that impact.

Sometimes picking up a particular writer serves to "jump start" my writing day. Just a few sentences or lines, and my own writing voice gets fired up and ready to work. Invention begins as a desire to join the conversation started by the other writer. It really doesn't matter what the author is writing about: more style/approach and less content/subject/genre.

It's frequently helpful and even inspiring to get a draft done that way, imitating and picking up on another writer's voice. You can always go back and change your style at a later moment, a later draft. From this method, you may see new angles and find material. Adopting a voice can produce an interesting base coat and challenge a writer to think differently (aka "critical thinking"). Sometimes though I need to enforce a complete break from another writer's strong voice early on. It's all about assessing and accepting what's really happening.