Friday, January 14, 2011

Freewrite Friday: The Map

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!

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?  


  1. I have been waiting for this the whole week, and it looks like it's going to be exactly what I was looking for. Thank you, so much Gigi :-)

  2. Fantastic Gigi....a brilliant tutorial and one that I will try...Thank you...xv

  3. What a great "assignment" to begin with, Gigi. I hope to take some time and sit with this this weekend. I have a cold, so wonder what my cold "fogged" brain will dig up... ;o) Thank you! Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

  4. Wonderful, my friends! Hope you'll enjoy it. Tracy, I think your fogged brain will make something amazing! :)

  5. I will also be giving it a try...thanks so much, Gigi! Happy Weekend! xxoo :)

  6. Excellent! I've been waiting for this all week! :) Can't wait to begin.

  7. Gigi, I have been waiting all week for this . I can't wait to begin. Thanks for doing. this.

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  9. ok, i'm still thinking about this. i've felt the best i have all week in the past two hours since free writing than i have all week.

    although frustrating at first, it felt really good to be allowed and encouraged to do something different.

    Thanks, Gigi :)

  10. Cate! I loved your first comment!!!! Todd and I were just talking about it, and then I looked again and it was gone. I know exactly what you meant about this exercise taking you out of your comfort zone. That's what it's designed to do, but it only works if you trust it enough to just go along with the process and see where it leads you, which is EXACTLY what you did. This is one of the many reasons why you rock.

    I loved the image of you drawing your map right in your notebook--cows and all. You made my night, which was already pretty darn amazing, even better. xo

  11. and so i begin. i will be back

  12. Gigi, I'm so happy to have found your blog and I plan on grabbing a sidebar badge to share. Thank you for doing this, I'm looking forward to the mining process.

  13. Hi, Karen! Welcome, and thanks for sharing the badge!

  14. good morning, dear gigi!
    awww ~ thanks so much for your
    wonderfully kind words over at
    my place ... xo
    sorry i was a little late for class ... ; )
    i guess you now know i am
    primed and ready to begin
    writing! i have my journey
    mapped out in my mind
    and will put it to paper today!
    i love this idea a LOT ...
    thank you so much for
    your generous and masterful guidance
    in this ... especially the exercise in
    flicking doubt off our shoulders ...
    a very good visual for me!
    with love and gratitude,

  15. Hey! Great! This is right in line with something else I'm reading on writing. Guess it's a sign to stop reading and start writing!

  16. ah. such perfect timing you have. perfect. i am just waking up from the last week and this is exactly what i need. :)


  17. Just popped over from Prairie Girl Studio. Am I too late to join in? This is a wonderful idea!

  18. I just popped over from Prairie Girl Studio too and have the same question as it too late to join??? This sounds perfect and delightful and challenging all at once!

  19. I feel so giddy! I am going to get a notebook today, a special one just for writing, and I can't wait to start my map! Now, which journey will I choose? I can get hung up over stuff like that....the perfectionist in me wants to make sure it is the best journey I can think of ever taking...even if it was a small journey. Maybe I need to stop thinking so much.

  20. Hi, friends! No, it's not too late. In fact, it's never too late. There's no formal sign-up or assignments. Just feel free to jump in and do whichever exercises strike your fancy. I'll keep them organized on their own page as we go along. Just click on the "Freewrite Fridayss" tag and it will take you there. That way, if you miss a week or two, you can always come back and catch up easily. Thanks so much for visiting and joining in!

    Jaime, I so, so get your perfectionist comment. I have that problem, too. You are exactly right when you say it's best to stop thinking so much. These exercises I'll be offering are often designed more for the gut than the mind! :)

  21. Dearest Gigi ~

    I just told Sean this afternoon, "I cannot wait to catch up with Gigi tonight!" And now after 30 minutes of being carried away by your beautiful words and catching my breath from the sheer joy of realizing what an incredible offering you are sharing with these writing sessions, I'm going to go and grab my notebook! Thank you dear friend for 'teaching' us how to write and leading us along a path to clear the mind from clutter so the inspiration can flow. I'm so ready!

    On a side note, we are moving into our new place (just signed a 12 month lease) this weekend. I'm very excited! I'll send you more information and a detailed update via email when we settle in. I think you and Todd just might want to come and visit!

    Happy New Year!


  22. I'd love to see some other's maps, if anyone wants to share a photo. I'm finding it near impossible to get started. As soon as I pick up a pencil or crayon or my daughter's AquaDoodle pen (which is quite often, as she loves to draw with me), I just start doodling. I'm trying to find a way to connect what I am drawing and make a story from it all. It will be exciting to see something so disconnected finally come together!

  23. If anyone wants to send photos of their maps, I'll be happy to share them in a post!

    Also, Jenner, I find it helps when I'm doing this exercise to really picture myself taking that journey. I imagine myself moving through that landscape as I draw it. What signposts or landmarks do I see? Buildings? Is the landscape flat? Hilly? Easy or hard to traverse?

    The more I imagine myself there, the easier it is to make the leap from map to writing. Remember that you don't need to make a story. All you need to do is describe the journey. This exercise really does work, I promise. :)

  24. This is a great idea and I really look forward to trying it and out and posting what I end up writing/drawing for my map at my blog

    Thanks for an awesome and inspired project!

  25. Hi, Gigi,

    I meant get a post written when you first introduced the writing exercises, but as usual, am playing catch up (just like my students who took incompletes for fall). Anyway, I wanted to tell you what a great idea this is -- even for those of us who may be sporadic in our participation, it will help keep creative energies flowing, which, as you know, can sometimes be a challenge given our day to day working lives.

    So, what really prompted me to write was that when I read your first post about these exercises, it called to mind a talk I attended in the fall on the history of Chinese art and calligraphy. I was fascinated by the what the speaker explained in terms of how artists/calligraphers learned the skill and technique of their craft. A master artist worked with a student to teach the manner of holding the brush, dipping the brush into ink, following the movement for creating each stroke and the series of strokes for creating each character. What was most amazing about this was that the master artist held the student's hand though this entire process, over and over, until the student had internalized the technique. Master artists believed that in this holding of a new artist's hand, all of the knowledge and values of tradition were passed (in some ways literally handed down) from one generation to the next.

    So by offering these exercises for writers to try, you are offering the reassurance of a guiding hand for those venturing into new avenues of expression. What is amazing about your way of doing this, however, is the freedom that you offer at the same time. In that earlier tradition, every movement was rigidly controlled (perfect imitation was the key), whereas you keep encouraging writers to find their own voices, their own best avenues of expression. Having that level of confidence in your students is really the sign of a modern master artist/teacher.

  26. I trusted you and drew the map and then placed myself in it and traced the steps. I wrote non stop...words tumbled out and no searching for just the right one. In my 72 years I never enjoyed writing so much and truly liked what I wrote. It was just the right amount of parameters vs freedom for me. Thank you, Dear.

  27. Thanks for your comment, Cassie, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you write!

    Thanks, too, Mrs. Merganser. I didn't know that this was how the Chinese master calligraphers taught their students, but it makes so much sense! It also relates to other art forms, such as painting, in which you imitate great works by the masters for a very long time, learning technique, internalizing it. In poetry classes, I often have students imitate the styles and forms of great poets. I think I myself imitated Elizabeth Bishop for years and years before I ever wrote a poem in my own style! I was very touched by your comments. Thank you very much. I'm trying to imagine the map that you might draw. :)

    And a big thank you to you, Polly/Mum. I loved seeing your map and your writing the other day! You really did trust in the process, and it showed.

    Can't wait to meet everyone back here tomorrow for another exercise!

  28. I found myself literally in a rut. I chose the wrong map, it led to numorous dead ends and frustration. Good thing I have a basket ful of maps to chose from. This one is going to the bottom of the pile. A new one has been chosen and I am off.....


  29. Oh, Cyn, you so have a great attitude! I think your next map will take you someplace interesting! :)


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