Free writing

 

Free writing (text version)

In the prompts I will often suggest using free writing as a way of beginning a new poem. I think of it as gathering the material which I will use to write, as a sculptor might need clay, wood or stone to work with before they begin. They might need to look at the material to know what can come out of it. Free writing simply means writing freely, without worrying about spelling, grammar or punctuation and most importantly without worrying about whether what you are writing is ‘right’ or ‘good’. When I’m free writing, I’m not trying to write a poem. I’m just trying to get down as many thoughts or images as I can on a particular theme or experience.

I usually use listing to decide what to free write about. Let’s say I’ve written a list of objects that are important to me. I will then choose one. Let’s say I choose a mug that I found in my friend’s house after she died. It’s a small yellow Moomin mug that I often use for coffee.

I would usually time myself for a free write, and I usually go for three minutes, or five minutes if I want a bit more time. But another length of time may work for you. I’m always surprised by how much I can write in three minutes if I try to keep my pen moving.

I will set my timer and start to write about the mug. I may start by describing it, asking questions about it, writing about how I use it, what it means to me. Whatever occurs to me.

Once I’ve finished my freewrite. I will read over it and underline words or lines that stand out to me. I might then start to organise those lines into the beginning of a poem. The important thing with new work, is not to judge it. It’s not like you’re looking for something polished, perfect or even good. You’re just hoping to start something that you might continue working on, now or later.

Here’s an example freewrite about that mug.

Mug

I took this mug from her kitchen cupboard when we were cleaning out her flat. I don’t remember her drinking from it, but know she did. I don’t remember ever being given tea in it. The mug is squat and yellow. Not tall enough for anything with milk. I reserve it for black coffee, which I learned to drink when she was dying. Let all my friends die in Italy, I thought, so I can drink coffee like this and eat gelato for breakfast. This was the kind of humour I used. I haven’t given up the humour or the coffee. I am looking after the mug. It still belongs to her.

Now that I’ve finished the freewrite, I look for lines or words that stand out to me. Maybe things I quite like the sound of, or that seem particularly important.

Here I’ve highlighted:

Mug

I took this mug from her kitchen cupboard when we were cleaning out her flat. I don’t remember her drinking from it, but know she did. I don’t remember ever being given tea in it. The mug is squat and yellow. Not tall enough for anything with milk. I reserve it for black coffee, which I learned to drink when she was dying. Let all my friends die in Italy, I thought, so I can drink coffee like this and eat gelato for breakfast. This was the kind of humour I used. I haven’t given up the humour or the coffee. I am looking after the mug. It still belongs to her.

I’ve highlighted quite a lot here, but I’d often highlight much less.

Now I try to make some of those lines or words into the very first draft of a poem:

Mug

I took it from her cupboard.
Squat and yellow, no room for milk.
I don’t remember her holding it.

Let all my friends die in Italy
so I can drink black coffee
and eat gelato for breakfast.

This is how I survived.
I’m only looking after it.
It’s still so obviously hers.

This already looks like a poem, but often it would take me many more tries. I can’t tell yet if it’s one that will stick. I’ll need to put it away for a while.

But I hope this demonstrates how I use listening and free writing to start to find a poem. I like them because when I begin, I don’t know where I will end up. I only know a little bit about how I will get there.