Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’m also a self-confessed control freak who likes order, routine and structure. That’s why it felt good this week when I hit my first milestone in my current WIP. Getting to 20k words is quarter way through an average 80k word novel so I already feel that I’ve bitten off a decent chunk of the story.
Even when I was writing full-time during my MLitt course, I’ve never written as much in a matter of weeks. I believe that the main reason why I’ve been so productive is that for the first time ever, I’m following a writing technique known as ‘Freefall Writing’.
I didn’t realise that there was a label for my new approach until I read a blog post by Sandra Jensen on the Mslexia website and it described the way I’ve been writing recently. Sandra writes about her experience of Freefall which was originated by W.O. Mitchell and developed further by Barbara Turner-Vesselago.
Freefall writing is defined as, “a method some writers discover spontaneously, but many have to (re)earn : the technique of writing from the larger Self beyond reach of the ego and its censors” and is likened to writing without a parachute.
This is a very different style from my usual method of revising as I go along but it often means that I get so caught up in fine tuning every sentence, that the momentum of the storytelling dies. When I decided to start a new novel, I was apprehensive that the plot wouldn’t be strong enough, the characters would be too dull, the themes would be too weak…, you get the picture.
And then I stopped beating myself up and decided to write without worrying about getting it right on every level. It’s a FIRST draft so I have to lighten up and write freely, without the fear of failing.
I’m convinced that’s why the words are flowing. I know eventually I’ll resort to my default perfectionist setting when I get to the end and accept that the WIP needs edited. But right now I’m learning to let go. The polishing process can come later…
Have you tried Freefall writing? Would this approach work for you or do you constantly edit as you write?
31 thoughts on “Freefall Writing”
I can definitely relate to the benefits of writing without fear. I’m actually working on a post at the moment, which is about letting go to allow the first draft to come in all its messy glory. If you don’t mind, I’d love to put a link to this post. They will go rather nicely together, I think. Thanks for your take on the process. I’d never heard that term before.
Hi Gabriel, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I’m flattered that you’d like to link it to your blog. I didn’t even realise I was using the ‘freefall’ method until I came across the term. It seems to be helping keep the ideas rolling and I hope it works for you too. I look forward to reading your blog post.:)
My pleasure Helen. I hope you like the post when it comes…hopefully should be done by tomorrow. btw it’s Gabriela – with an a. And don’t worry, you’re not the first to make that mistake!! 😉
Ooops, apologies Gabriela 🙂
not to worry 😉
Very timely message I must say. I’m so glad I read this post – ‘before’ letting my very own control freakishness take over. I just know that is how I would have approached the start of the creative process with my first WIP.
I actually jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane to raise money for Hurricane Katrina a few years back – what a rush! It will be exhilarating to write in ‘freefall’ once I get to the point where I feel that I’m ready to write.
Hi Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and idea of ‘freefall’. I think it’s easy to get too tied up in small details and forget to enjoy the freedom of diving headlong into a first draft. Best of luck with your writing- have fun! 🙂
Enjoyed this piece, Helen – nodding in agreement as I read. I too have learned to switch off the inner editor for the first draft. It’s so liberating. All the best with the novel and well done on the high word count. 🙂
Thanks Anne. I’m sure I’d fallen into the trap of allowing my inner editor to dominate and forgotten how to relax and enjoy the creative process. 🙂
Thanks for the excellent reminder that at the beginning the editor has to be locked away so that the writing can gain a bit of its own momentum. (But I also have to abandon an obsession with counting every word as it arrives on the screen!) The perfectionism has to come later, doesn’t it?
Hi Rowena, Thanks! We sound quite similar in the fight against keeping the inner editor at bay. I admit that I too love to rack up a word count total as an incentive to reach the next milestone ( I like 10k markers) and need to relax more when writing. Best of luck with your own writing. 🙂
Helen I can barely write a tweet without going back over it a few times, small wonder then that my WIP has been in progress for three years. Its all but done now but there’s barely a sentence that I haven’t re written and I guess I’m stuck on “default perfectionist setting”
I’m going to give your freefall technique a shot. Thankyou!
Hi Tom. Yes, continual editing is a very hard habit to break and I’m just as guilty of tinkering with every sentence. I think doing quick fire timed writing exercises during my MLitt course helped me overcome my perfectionist streak. When you get 10 mins to write about an object/photo etc then you’ve no time to over think every word. Best of luck with your finished ms. I’m looking forward to seeing it published- no pressure! 😉
Well done on the 20k words, Helen. Whatever works, I say!
Thanks Susan, I just hope I can keep up the momentum! 🙂
Helen, just had my first shot at Freefall writing – a long overdue blog post. I wrote it last night and gave it one quick edit. Just wanted to say thanks, because sometimes I’ve written posts over several days, coming back, fiddling, tweaking and cut and pasting. But not this time. Quite an ennervating experience actually!
Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know how you got on with the ‘freefall’ method. Sometimes when you blog, you wonder whether it’s worth the time and effort and if anyone will read the post. So to hear that it inspired you to try a new approach to writing has made my day!
I’ve just read your post and it really moved me. The technique obviously works for you!
I can’t be described as having a ‘habit’ or ‘pattern’ since I just completed my first novel-length manuscript. I’m shortly going to write a post about it (thing 3 making me happy this week!) so I’ll not ramble on here, but I found I instinctively wrote it rather like I wrote shorter pieces, many years ago – longhand in a notebook, freefall sums it up pretty well, though I did have a skeleton plan first. Then I re-wrote it as I typed it up (then again. then again. then again… 😉 ). It was a good way of doing the first draft for me, as it all poured out quite effortlessly and I didn’t worry about it not being ‘good’. So it kept flowing and then the improving all happened in the typing/redrafting stages, when I noticed e.g. I’d used the same word three times in a paragraph, or whatever.
I didn’t write the whole 70,000 words in longhand first though. I think I did about a third of it, typed it up, then another big chunk and typed that, then another final chunk and typed that.
I *had* to print it out then, before I could redraft again – does anyone else find they need to do that? I just couldn’t get a proper sense of it, trying to read it on the screen.
Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting my blog. I’m like you in that I didn’t even realise I was using a technique with a name but ‘freefall’ seems to be working for me right now. But also like you, I can’t see errors etc as well on screen as I can when printed out but it’s an expensive process!. My friend uploads her WIP on to her Kindle and says she finds it great for redrafting as it looks like a published book and gives her a sense of the shape of the writing etc. Maybe one day I’ll invest in a Kindle and try that method too…
Oh, that’s clever. Maybe I should try that, if I can work out how to do it. My husband gave me a Kindle a few months ago but… I have to say 90% of the reading I’ve done on it has been blogs and email – I turn it round so it’s like a mini-laptop! I’ve used it a lot but can’t quite make the leap to reading ‘real books I love’ on it (if you are mulling over whether to take the plunge and are interested in the opinions of a very late adopter, my full review of pros and cons is ‘Out with the old?’ on my blog).
Having only found your blog today, I am off to browse it now!
I’m not familiar with its name, this kind of writing, but after reading Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing in which he encourages writers to write without editing I decided to give it a go – after all the first novel for me was that great learning curve of a novel, the point being to learn on the job. I’d been telling myself it would be dreadful writing if I did that and then I just decided, so what, do what the man says and find out through experience and what a ride it was, very quickly tapping into the subconscious and losing control in a good way. Things happened that I’d never have thought up, it was like being on a roller coaster at times.
But the real lesson came when I finished and had my first reader, he said to me, well something happens about page 90, it just suddenly picks up the pace and takes off – page 90 I thought – that’s about when I let go, when I stopped editing as I went and wrote ‘freefall’ as you say.
Hi Claire, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed writing with the freefall method too. It literally is liberating. I’ve also read the Stephen King book and blogged about it way back as I found it very inspiring.
I have a habit of editing as I write, I just can’t seem to go on knowing something I’ve written didn’t fit in with something I wrote prior. I also have this nagging habit of not being able to let go of grammar errors and other nitpicky things as I go along. After reading your post, I think I’m going to try freefall writing, just to see if I can do it and to see where it takes me
Hi,I can totally identify with your desire to correct errors etc and this was holding me back before I tried ‘freefall’ writing. I still have to fight the urge to constantly edit but I now believe that the time for that is once I’ve actually got the story down. It’s definitely helping me keep up the momentum. All the best with ‘freefall’ technique.