Saturday, July 20, 2013

Free Write

Playpen member Casey's terrific novel!
I belong to a writer’s group at home. These accomplished women have been meeting for many years (I am a fairly recent addition), supporting one another in their writing careers. “Playpen” includes a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a screen writer, several novelists and teachers, even a pair of writers who have published a book together. We meet monthly, and everyone brings news to share, as well as a helpful tip or two (website, new outlet for submissions, etc.) I find the group wonderfully affirming and inspiring.

In the summer at the beach, I often hit a pretty substantial writer’s block. Which makes no sense to me: here I am in a beautiful setting, with spare time I never have in Oreland, and I sit on the porch facing the dreaded blank page. This year, I decided to meet the problem head-on. I attended a “free write” hosted by the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild. I had no idea what to expect, but hoped it would jump-start some creativity.

The event, attended by six people with their laptops, was a series of writing prompts given by the group’s leader. These prompts ranged from lines taken from poems, to New Yorker cartoons, to random words on slips of paper. Everyone had five minutes to write about each topic, then to read their work aloud. Wow, was that eye-opening! I discovered that, while I think of myself as a “fast” writer, I’m nowhere near speedy enough to come up with compelling material on the spot. My fellow attendees, all veterans of the free write, churned out paragraph after paragraph of really good stuff, some touching, some funny. I, on the other hand, wrote mostly drivel, and was embarrassed to share it at all (you could pass, and for one prompt I did—at that point I was tempted to pack up and go home, where at least I could be alone with my blank page.)

One of the writing prompts. My output was less than stellar.
 Will I go back next week? I’m not sure. It was a little discouraging, and I do a fine job of discouraging myself already. But it definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve never taken a writing course of any kind, and have decided that my “voice” is what it is—I’ll never write a thriller (the only one I’d scare is me) or a romance (I’m such a prude that I’d blush if my characters even kissed). I write, basically, one kind of thing: spiritual essays about my life, with (hopefully) some humor. My kids often urge me to try another genre (“something edgy” says Rose, predictably), but I’m afraid to stretch very far.  I’m so poor at challenging myself in general, whether it be trying a new sport, or really putting myself out there as a writer and speaker. If it’s hard, I shy away. And I know I miss so much.

So OK. I’ll try the free write again. I can only get better, right?