Barbara Lee has written a novel, published one novella, The Seventh Circle, and is currently working on a second novella, Kiss Me at Midnight, which she hopes to publish in 2016. Her stories incorporate her fascination with the spirit world where readers get introduced to voodoo curses, Hawaiian spirits, Cherokee myths, and whatever else catches her fancy. Barbara is 72 years old and the great-grandmother of Lilly-Belle Johnson.
When I need a kick-start to write, or when the urge that propels the pen hits the doldrums, or when a revision project seems more like a chore than a pleasure, I rely on the Free Writing Challenge.
The Free Writing Challenge came to my attention from Leslie Gates, a creative writing classmate at the College of the Redwoods, when a group of us met to write between semesters. She was introduced to FWC via a University of Washington screenwriting class taught by two guys, Larry and Jack.
The rules: Once you begin to write you cannot let the pen stop, you cannot scratch out, and when the timer goes off, the pen stops. You read what you have written. There is no critique or comment (this is hard). Picking up where you left off, you write for ten minutes and read, write for fifteen and read, write for five and read. You are done. You’ve written for 35 minutes.
What you write doesn’t matter, but that you wrote. I emphasize “wrote” because what comes from the brain through the pen via the hand is, for lack of another term, organic. Only writing in the sand with a crooked finger may be more organic.
What makes this work is the prompt. Whether writing capricious fantasy, memoir or journal, the conceptions or memories are loosed by a trigger that lights the thoughts that stream out of the nib onto the paper.
To keep my writing muscle fit, I try to get together once a week with writers who accept the challenge. There was one session where I solved a problem with my protagonist’s personality with the prompt: “Remember, nobody’s all bad…” There were points-of-view I didn’t see.
This past week four of us were prompted with “Write a letter you do not intend to mail.” The session ended with a letter to a figure of authority whose biased and stringent views still leave a sour taste after sixty-five years; a lament to the wished-for daughter-in-law who did not become one; a letter to a relative with suggestions to build bridges between family chasms; and a fictional threat to expose a malevolent bus driver. The first three letters may appear in some form in in-process memoirs. As for the bus driver, he may end up in a story if I can flesh the bugger out. (The same goes for Clementine, a retired elephant in a circus in Rickettsville, PA, who showed up in an FWC session.)
We can never know exactly what is going to come from our brain during the challenge, but the discipline creates amazing results. What I wrote for thirty-five minutes is usually important only to me, but its value is that I left the bare desert and caused brand new thoughts to appear as ink on paper. I have, once again, proven to myself that I can do it.
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