Word Play Poetry Fridays

One of the most important tools in writing — and one of the easiest to practice — is freewriting. But don’t let that fool you — freewriting is a very complex skill, too. Like a tool, it should be sharpened and put away carefully. 

Freewriting, at its simplest, is just timed writing: you write for a certain amount of time, maybe even set an alarm, without stopping. That means no pauses for thinking, grammar, or coherence — just writing as fast as you can for the given time. As I say to my middle schoolers, “Keep the pencil moving,” or, if you’re using a keyboard, keep tapping the keys quickly with no reference to the words or any particular idea. What you’re really doing is releasing your mind from its editor function, so you’re not censoring or holding back — just saying what you’re thinking as fast as you can. Because you can’t possibly write as quickly as you can think, you have to begin being able to follow your thought and direct it at the same time.  

Once you’re used to this discipline, you can begin to refine your freewriting by writing on a topic or directing your mind to lead you in a pre-determined direction. I often do freewrites on ideas, poems that I’ve thought about but haven’t started to write yet. The discipline is in sticking with the topic for the time and being vigilant about the other rule: no stopping. 

Then what comes out may not be so great, but it’s a beginning, and freewrites easily lend themselves to rewrites because then you do have the time to stop and consider each word, but you already have some good material to work with. A freewrite has to yield at least one good starter for another poem. 

In fact, that is an advanced freewriting technique: looping. Here you do one timed freewrite, stop and read the freewrite, then choose one line, phrase or sentence as a starter and begin again. You can repeat this as many times as you want, and it really is a good technique for generating material. 

Anyone who is having trouble with Writer’s Block should set up a freewriting discipline, say, begin with a 5-minute freewrite every day for a week. Eventually the dam will break.

Lastly, I want to emphasize how much fun freewriting should be. It’s the perfect place for ridiculous wordplay, disarming non-sequiturs, biting criticisms, all the things you’d never say otherwise. I like to think about the preschool I used to run, where the kids would come to the finger paint table and just enjoy spreading the colors around. They didn’t care about product. It was worthwhile to judiciously pull the paper away from them when you wanted to send one home with Mama, but the kids were just playing. That’s the essence of play — to do something without regard to profit or product — and that’s the right way to approach freewriting. Make it fun! 

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