Welcome back. I'm glad you've come! If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here.
I'm calling these inspiration sessions Freewrite Fridays, because I want you to think of them as a time and a place where you can free your mind. These exercises won't be about editing and polishing. Instead, they will be about mining for gold. We'll generate new material (I'll be doing the exercises right along with you), and see how far we can take our imaginations. Hopefully, you'll find that you explore places and ideas in your writing that you never have before. As we go along, I'll start sharing some exercises for revising and shaping your writing, but for now, we'll focus on generating ideas.
A few nuts and bolts before we begin:
- If a little editor usually sits on your shoulder when you write, whispering and hissing in your ear, filling you with doubt, flick him (or her) off your shoulder right now. Good writing is about process. I will say this again and again. Revising plays an important role in that process, as does editing, but not right now, not while generating ideas. This part of the process is about playing. Who can play when there's an annoying editor telling us everything we do is wrong or silly or not good enough?
- Please feel free to share thoughts about your writing process in the comments section of each post. I'd love to hear how it's going for you, and if you have writing questions, I can answer them there, too.
- While this isn't a formal class, and you won't be sending me your exercises, if you have a blog of your own and you ever feel like posting something you've written on your blog (even a scan or photo of your notebook pages), please let me know you've done it so I can provide a link!
- I have made a little sidebar badge for Freewrite Fridays. You're welcome to grab it from my sidebar and bring it on over to your blog, if you'd like to share these sessions with your own readers.
- Last but not least, I will often ask you to begin a writing exercise by doing something other than writing. Think of it as warming up your brain. You wouldn't begin a run without stretching out and warming up first, right? Sometimes we get nowhere when we just sit down and tell ourselves to write. But when we listen to a piece of music first or go outside and take a photo of a gnarled apple tree or go to the kitchen and read through a gingerbread recipe, our brain warms up. We aren't thinking, "Write, dammit!" That can be the best time to sit down with pen in hand.
Okay, on to the first exercise!
THE MEMORY MAP
This exercise begins with a warm-up that is incredibly fun (and sometimes quite eye-opening) to do. Note, too, that it can be done all at once, or you can do the warm-up one day and the writing on another day.
- Grab your writing notebook or just a few sheets of paper and some colored pencils, crayons, pens, or whatever you've got.
- Let your brain wander back through journeys you have taken in your life. I don't necessarily mean that grand tour of Europe you took when you were 20 or your backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. I mean journeys great and small, including the drive through dairy farms every summer to visit your grandparents up north; or the shortcut through the field you used to take when you were eight to buy Sugar Daddys and Sweet Tarts at the corner store; or the half-hour commute to work you've made twice a day, five days a week for the past fifteen years; or even the path through your house from the sofa in the living room to the cookie jar in the kitchen. That's a journey of a few yards, but for some of us it holds great significance.
- Now, let your brain choose one journey that is important to you. It doesn't matter why it is important. The reasons for its importance may be positive or negative--or a combination of the two. It only matters that it has significance in your life.
- Now, in your writing notebook or, if you prefer, on a separate sheet of paper, draw a map of the journey. Do not consult a "real" map to make sure you're correct. Do not worry about scale or accuracy. Do not worry if it looks good or bad. Take some time with your map. When I've done this exercise in the past, I've started in pencil and then drawn over that with pens or colored pencils. Be sure to show your starting and ending points, and all the in-betweens that matter to you. If a particular sign or landmark is important to you, mark it, label it, show its importance on the map. If one part of the journey is long but feels short (or vice versa), show that on the map. If one part feels dangerous, show that, too! Just think of old explorers' maps with their warnings that "Here be monsters" out in the vast ocean.
- Make your map as detailed as you want. As you draw, think about why this journey matters to you. Is it because of what is at the end of the journey or is it because of the journey itself? Maybe it's both. Let your thoughts on this become part of the map. Remember, it doesn't matter how perfect the map looks. It's nobody's but yours. When you're finished, you might not have a map that someone else could follow with any luck, but you will have a map that feels quite accurate and true to your own memories and emotions.
- Now for the writing! Try to give yourself a good half hour or more for this. I sometimes set my kitchen timer. When you free-write, remember not to judge the writing. Just keep going; let the pen move. Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation at this point.
- Write a description of your journey in your writing notebook. Not a story, not an essay, not a finished anything--just a description of your journey. Use all of your senses--touch, smell, hearing, taste, and sight--as you write. You can refer back to the map you drew as often as you like. If other people usually take that journey with you, be sure to include them in your description. Be as detailed as possible. At the top of the page, before I even begin, I sometimes write, "Why does this journey matter to me?" It helps to keep me on track.
- When you've finished, read it over. Put the notebook away. Come back an hour or a day or a week later and read it again. Do you discover any surprises there? Where might this piece of writing lead you next?