I have no clue

what to post. And there you have the writer’s dilemma–that infamous blank page. The blank page is a ten-pound weight we pick up and lift and press again and again. It’s how we work out. We stare at the blank page. We put down text. We stare. We write. Five, ten reps. Ten sets. We practice.

Fortunately, we have tools to help us with that blank page, whether the page is a college essay, an article we’ve agreed to write, or a memo that needs to go out in a half-hour. One of those tools is freewriting. Freewriting is a kind of brainstorming or pre-writing, but it can be used at any stage of the writing process to nudge you further into your project or writing task.

I take my freewriting guidelines from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. Goldberg uses the phrase “timed writing practice” and asks the writer to commit to a certain amount of time–five minutes, twenty minutes, an hour. Once the writer commits to the time, here are the guidelines:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Lose control.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Don’t think.
  5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar.
  6. You are free to write the worst junk in America.
  7. Go for the jugular.

If you want to know more about these guidelines, check out Goldberg’s work.


taking risks

Some students have asked me if writing about going to jail is a valid topic for a personal narrative essay. I think I know what they’re really asking: Will you judge me if I write about this experience?

Writing honestly about one’s life takes guts. These students have the courage. I know they do. They also know–somehow they know in their cells–that sharing their writing will heal some part of themselves and their readers. I can see in their eyes that they want to write about this experience. But they want my blessing. I can give that. I can, however, give them no guarantee–that they won’t be judged by some readers, that their writing will give them peace.

I can guarantee that if they write to the best of their abilities, and if they write honestly, they will be moved–their readers will be moved. Somebody’s going to learn something. Shift will happen. Tiny blessings will spark, like those June fireflies that pinpoint nano-seconds of brightness in the dusk of summer.