Freewriting, to me, is the ultimate way to begin any piece of composition. It prompts the writer to get their thoughts out and on to the paper. Freewriting helps the writer to organize their thoughts before starting the final draft. The key to freewriting is to not stop writing – no matter what. Why is it when I write… why do I always want to stop, contemplate, and revise what I’m writing.
Peter Elbow tells us in his book Writing Without Teachers that I shouldn’t revise myself as I’m writing. Goodness, I believe that is my biggest problem. (Wow, see, I just did it with that sentence, editing it as go.) I have to stop the madness sometime if I’m going to expect my future students to understand and work with a freewrite method/model. If I can’t make attempts to break my habit, how can I in turn 1) teach the model when I am not perfect and 2) help others learn the model and break their own bad writing habits?
I want to write about my writing habits for a while. I have found that revising as I go is not effective when trying to compose a piece of writing. I often get frustrated, find myself staring off into space while I try to think of a clever way to reword a sentence, and I don’t make progress within a small period of time, versus where I could end up if I would just write off the cuff and not worry so much about the revision process. I think that’s the editor in me, and the drive to write a document once and only have to lightly edit it. It is hard for me to turn that off, but when I do, I can plainly see the success. I notice I get further, I have more written down to potentially draw additional ideas from, and I don’t have to do as much work.
So I must ask myself… why do you work harder instead of smarter in this case? Come on! The answer at first is obvious – I’m an editor. But I need to dig deeper than that. Why do I enjoy editing? Refining a rough draft to get closer to a finished piece gives me a great sense of accomplishment. So, why won’t I just get closer to the finished piece to start, and then go from there, revising as I need to once the first draft is complete?
Once I do have a draft together, I usually print it out, read through it once, and then cut up the paragraphs if I feel there isn’t a solid flow throughout the entire piece. I have a rough time getting to that step, though, unless it’s personal writing. Writing for my undergraduate degree (the first few years, that is), I would often procrastinate and turn documents in as is, and hope for the best. More times than not I would get the grade I desired, which would lead me to believe I was okay doing this process, and could keep going. I’ve learned in my last year of my undergraduate degree, I needed to take more time to develop my writing. Perhaps this is because I began tutoring in my last year of my undergrad degree, but either way, it helped me achieve a better result: a good grade and satisfaction. Before, I would just turn something in and hope for the best, but at the end of my senior year, I knew I was turning in something quality and would deserve the best.
What changed? What did I do different? I spent more time on a project. I was organized from the beginning. I still struggled to stop revising as I wrote a paper, but would have my fellow writing tutors or my boyfriend proofread for me. By the way, he’s an excellent writer, although he won’t admit it often enough. I enjoy reading his work – he’s very intelligent when it comes to tech-centered ideas and video games. He always manages to put a creative spin on things. I sit here and wonder to myself, does he freewrite when composing his blog posts, and at the end of the piece, revise then and only then, or does he revise as he goes along? I know he has me proofread and edit for him on occasion, but I have never asked him this. I do wonder what his process is… and now that I sit here and think about it, I’m kind of mad at myself for not asking him this sooner. I suppose we will have to have a discussion when I get home this evening!
Anyway, back to revising as I go… how do I turn it off? How do I stop the urge to edit while composing a document? I need help with this. Maybe Elbow’s practices will stick with me. I particularly enjoy the concept of allowing four hours to work on a piece and breaking up the first three hours into two sections: the first 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes. This might actually help me concentrate more on getting the writing done versus making it perfect. I need to remind myself that this comes later, not first. I bet I’d be more productive with this approach, and then in turn, I could teach my future students this model and get their feedback. Does it work for everyone? I’d imagine it doesn’t, just as there is no one standard way to write. But I do believe that following Elbow’s suggestion will help writers, both struggling and expert, improve their craft.
I love both revising and editing – sometimes I have to remind myself they are two very different elements of the craft. Revision – re-seeing a document and making changes as necessary to fulfill requirements, whether it be substance or flow. Editing is different. And there are different types. Copy editing, editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation, editing to add a creative spin, and more. This is the part of writing I really enjoy.
Write, write, and write. I hardly spend time writing for pleasure anymore, and I really should, as it is my form of therapy. The fact of the matter is, I always find something else to do, or something else that needs to be done. I’m making time for reading more fiction, so why can’t I stick to my proposed daily writing schedule? How I wish there were more hours in a day, to accomplish everything I want… but by the end of the day, I end up giving up because I’m tired, work has worn me out, my eyes can’t bear to read another word, let alone paragraph or page. This must stop. I remember I used to tell myself “you make time for the things you want to do.” I should start telling myself that again. I have many things I want to do, and writing at least for an hour, or even 30 minutes a day is one of them.
Does the above help me gain clarity about freewriting and my own habits? I do believe so. It has helped me to point out what I believe is a top flaw in my own writing: revising as I go, editing before a document is complete, etc. Sure, I rambled a bit, but I think I was finally getting somewhere regarding revision. Is this a breakthrough? Quite possibly.