Lessons focusing on fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and the intercepts between, to provide inspiration and/or distraction.
- The Thickness & The Threshold: A Lesson With Alina Stefanescu
- What Might Have Been: A Lesson With Steve Edwards
- What Echoes Will Always Come Back: A Lesson With Hillary Leftwich
- Creating Emotional Urgency Using Anaphora & Parallelism: A Lesson With Kathy Fish
- The House and You: Intimate Spaces, Objects and Memory: A Lesson With Hannah VanderHart
- Populating Fiction in the Age of Social Isolation: A Lesson with Aram Mrjoian
- All That Lingers: A Lesson with Satya Dash
- A Lesson with Kim Magowan
- Epistolary Writing: a Shortcut to Earnestness & a Step toward Experiment: A Lesson With Tyler Barton
- Diving Through to the Other Side: A Lesson With Meg Tuite
- Evoking Deep Feeling in Narrative: A Lesson With Jennifer Wortman
- What Stays on the Page: Using Photos as Inspiration: A Lesson With Madeline Anthes
- Freewriting With Sentence Starts: A Lesson With Francine Witte
- How Did We Get Here?: A Lesson With Joshua Jones
- Switching Up Your POV For Deeper Access: A Lesson With Melissa Ragsly
- The Sky is a Story: A Lesson With Robert James Russell
- Let’s Talk About How Stories Get Started: A Lesson With K.C. Mead-Brewer
Freewriting With Sentence Starts: A Lesson With Francine Witte
Freewriting, as I’m defining it here, is writing, without stopping, about anything that comes into your mind for a short period of time (2-5 minutes.) The without stopping part is important because that’s where the uncensored thoughts come out. This is where you discover what you didn’t even know what you were thinking about. It’s quite fascinating.
Fewer than two minutes doesn’t really tap in to the subconscious. More than five and, well, your hand gets tired.
I do think it’s more helpful to freewrite in longhand, but if the keyboard works for you, then great.
What on earth will you write about?
This is usually the problem. What on earth will you write about for 2-5 minutes?
You can, of course, pick a topic. Roberta Allen does this. In her book, Fast Fiction, she has a list of single-word prompts. Write a story about a key, might be one. Set the timer for five minutes.
I’ve used this many, many times, myself, having studied extensively with Roberta.
I added something else when I was teaching high school in NYC. I found that for teenagers, they needed a hook. A sentence they HAD to finish. Roberta did this, too, and I also found this helpful.
I will also note that I am directing this towards poetry, as poetry does not require a narrative arc.
How to begin to begin
This works very well with a writing partner.
Make a list of ten phrases that need to be finished. An example would be, “I knew he wasn’t coming back because…”
There should be an emotional charge in the sentence. Something urgent. But acutally anything to get you started. Example: “I went to the store and bought…” might bring up more interesting results than you would think.
If you want to use your own phrases, great. If not, trade them with your partner.
Now write for 2-5 minutes. Don’t stop. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry if you change the subject. Just keep going.
With the popularity of ZOOM and FACEBOOK MESSENGER chats, this can be done with a partner at the same time.
After you’ve written
Read what you’ve written out loud, even to yourself. Don’t censor yourself as you go along.
What were the strongest words, ideas, etc.
If you are working with a partner, ask him or her to say what was strongest. What images or ideas stood out?
If you are working alone, underline the strongest words, images, ideas.
Now, rewrite what you just wrote using ONLY the strong ideas and images. Cut away any filler.
You may find that you now have a very short paragraph. That’s fine.
Now you have a new block of writing to look at, either alone or with a partner.
Don’t worry about the sense of it. Worry about the senses of it.
Look at anyplace you that the five senses are used. What can you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, in the paragraph?
If nothing, where could the senses be used?
Get concrete. Did you use the word house? What kind of a house? Brick, white clapboard. Ranch?
Add those details.
Take your very sensory, very concrete paragraph and break it into lines and stanzas. Make it look like a poem. Somehow, this little psychological trick really works.
Now, look for the clarity and logic in what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be something you can put into words, but it should also not be obscure.
That said, a poem doesn’t have to make perfect sense. Let the reader make connections.
If you don’t have a partner, another reader will be helpful.
Some starters to get you started
I saw the candle burning, and I knew…
The last time I saw him, he was….
I never told you, but I …
If I had three wishes they would be…
I know it’s too late, but still…
There was a stranger in the mirror and she…
Good luck and happy freewriting!