Sunday, September 29, 2019

More Mindful Approaches to Freewriting

This semester, I've been giving new thought to strategies around freewriting.

In all of my writing courses, it doesn't matter if it's a 100-level, a 400-level, or a graduate course, I emphasize the importance of freewriting as a way to record, on page or screen, our internal rhetoric. This recording of internal talk is crucial in a few regards:

1. Freewriting emphasizes quantity over quality. This is super important because it suggests a more forgiving, self-accepting view of the self as a writer. Maximum quantity only happens if we invite everything in and don't pause to correct ourselves. 

Instead of fixing or editing, while freewriting writers develop a higher tolerance for their inevitable moments of dull or repetitive thinking. Writers operate out of faith that there's a natural abundance of other material in their ongoing inner production of language. Writers trust themselves more.

2. Freewriting allows writers to mindfully perceive the actual first language to appear on the scene: namely, that internal talk. This is important because it honors that first language by making it visible on the page or screen. 

In turn, this honoring means that writers are being more mindful of their present writing moment. Most importantly, writers are remaining aware that their future audience isn't in the room.

It also means that their intrapersonal rhetoric--how writers persuade themselves of certain views about their writing ability in general or their ability to complete the specific task at hand--becomes more visible. So writers become more aware of how they talk themselves into certain moods about writing and certain choices during the writing process (procrastinating, editing too early, etc.). They notice the self-persuasion on the screen. Still, I think there are even more mindful ways to practice freewriting:

I've been encouraging students to incorporate more of their on-the-spot momentary thinking in freewrites. This is in the spirit, again, of how the goal is not a polished, organized freewrite. The goal is to accurately reflect their internal talk.

1. So I want them to include their reactions to being asked to freewrite in the freewrite. I want them to include any feelings of frustration, boredom, excitement, curiosity, physical pain from handwriting, etc. Any emotional reaction is a candidate for inclusion.

I ask them to see how those emotional reactions to freewriting are in flux. They're subject to impermanence even during a three minute freewrite. 

2. I encourage them to incorporate descriptions of their in-breath and out-breath, in phrases, at the commencement of a freewrite, but also during the middle and end of a freewrite. Just as writers can steer their internal talk through freewrites, guiding it toward a particular topic (a concept or a structural issue in a draft, for instance), they can also steer freewrites to help them become more mindful, to remember to pay attention to their breathing.

3. Finally, any emphasis on quantity in itself needs to be mindfully monitored to make sure we're not engaging in a preconception or over-valuation of written production. It's helpful to seek quantity (so we can practice writing self-acceptance and develop ease), but we need to be careful we're not craving written product or that higher word count from a freewrite. To do so means we're engaging in false binary thinking (i.e.: writing is good / not writing is to be avoided) that's actually a craving that can lead to writing suffering. 

Ms. Neaux Neaux, Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

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