Chapter 1: Write What You Know

Grab a pen, put on paper the thoughts in your head as fast as they come to you. Write what you know this day, this minute. The process, called freewriting, is writing without stopping for ten minutes while not worrying about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or content.

Why do it? It can help you feel better, organize your thoughts, find meaning in your life, be kind to your family and friends, contribute value to society, and express gratitude for your life. It can help you get what you want most of the time.

Freewriting, a concept described by Elbow in Writing Without Teachers, changed my life. In 1979 I began to write ten minutes every day in a spiral notebook. I was made to do it in my second class in graduate school. It was a class assignment, but it was helping me sort out what was going on in my personal life. I was not coping well with the stresses of two young children. The freewriting helped me see concretely on paper my thoughts and feelings and come up with plans for improvements.

I had a five-year old daughter and a two-year old son. I loved them dearly, but at times I was edgy, hateful--resentful that I no longer talked to educated adults during the day. In my view my husband was not pulling his share of the load at home; however, I wasn’t working outside the home, so I thought: “This is my job—why can’t I do it better, like it more, be more patient?” As all the discontent, self-pity, and anger spilled onto the page, I began to feel lighter, less depressed. The more I wrote, the more I liked some of the words.

My children are grown now and I have a full-time job, but the activities of work can hurl me along at a pace that causes me to lose sight of important work goals and personal goals. Some days I read and deal with one email after another, answer the phone, check voice mail, return calls, and attend meetings. At the end of the day I can still have over a hundred emails staring at me because they multiplied like rabbits while I was answering other ones. Freewriting can bring all the fragmented, flying around pieces of me back together the way a magnet pulls the little black slivers on an “Etch A Sketch” screen to the center.

When I am rushing through the work day with gnawing anxiety, if I can get myself to sit still long enough to freewrite for five minutes, I can figure out whether I am sad, angry, or scared. The writing can also help me register that I am none of those things. I am just indulging in free-floating worry. Recognizing that, I remind myself to enjoy my good health and happiness.

In the middle of the day, I can grab my journal, take stock of what is going on and decide the next most important thing to do. It might be to leave work and meet a friend for lunch or get back to the project that my boss mentioned first thing that morning. The writing process moves me from a “scattered in all directions” sensation to a “get still and do this” frame of mind.

Freewriting can help you organize your day, get rid of frustration, tap your source of creativity, prepare for important conversations, achieve your goals, and write for work or pleasure if either is required or desired.
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