Freefall into Writing
IN FREEFALL. Source: 1417191 sports.desktopnexus.com.jps
After five years, I was freefalling again. No parachute, just my trusty laptop and some story ideas.
Freefall is a special type of writing, led by Canadian educator Barbara Turner-Vesselago, who teaches the technique internationally. The technique involves loosening up, letting ideas fall onto the page/screen without trying to manipulate or edit them. The aim is spontaneity, avoiding too much decision-making while getting a first draft down on paper.
It took time and intent before I could comfortably leave my normal writing routine and involve myself in a new approach. It helped that the residential week reduced the number of interruptions I usually contend with, and that the week had a set structure:
- Write in the mornings and give Barbara a draft before lunch. The no-talking rule in the morning helped keep the focus on writing.
- Meet briefly with the group before lunch. Each person commented on their morning’s writing experience, and others listened but were not expected to respond.
- Enjoy free afternoons. I tended to write, walk, take photos, or go to one of the nearby villages for coffee and a wi-fi connection.
- Regroup before dinner for readings and discussions. Barbara read out some of the material submitted that morning, without identifying the authors. Listeners could respond, mainly in terms of the effect the material had on them.
The workshop took place in a spacious, secluded house on a property in Yarck, Victoria. My bedroom/study had a view out to spring-green pastures and a small pond—a tranquil setting to write, dream, and ponder.
Freefall differs from some writing programs in that writers are invited to pursue to engage with their ideas before worrying about structure, logic, and storyline. The aim is to get ideas down on paper/screen, no matter how odd they seem, without correcting, rewriting, or planning. Let a word or phrase carry your imagination somewhere. Stay engaged in the flow, without trying to control what comes to mind. As I did not finish the week with a tidy collection of polished pieces. But I discovered that I could come up with surprising and powerful material, which I could then work on later.
In Freefall, participants do not criticise someone’s work, delve into technical issues, or suggest how the material could be improved. Instead, feedback focuses on where listeners sense power, authenticity, and connection in the work.
An important aspect of Freefall is to forget about playing it safe, and ‘go fearward’. The fearward approach can lead to material that is original and strong. And that’s exciting. The result may be rough draft that captures something honest and powerful, and when polished later, it seems likely to find appreciative readers.
Does it work? Late in my Yarck week, I wrote about a complex topic, related to a death in my family. I had tried writing about it several times, over some months, but I always became bogged down in a mess of details.
This time when I sat down to write, a phrase popped into my head. I wrote it down. Then another phrase appeared, and another. I jotted it all down, with no backtracking, checking, or rewriting. It felt like automatic writing, with me no longer calling the shots as the creator, but simply receiving. When it felt right to stop, I put the draft aside. Later, I reread it and was surprised that not only had the confusing details fallen away, the main element of my story was clear and powerful.