Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teaching Writing to Others: Using the Timed Writing Exercise in Groups

Writing Imperfectly While We Strive for Perfection

Pam Jenoff -- in her articleThe Self-Assessed Writer: Harnessing Fiction-Writing Process to Understand Ourselves as Legal Writers and Maximize Legal Writing Productivity, 10 JALWD (Fall 2013) -- admits that students have a hard time committing fully to the timed writing exercise I described in my last post.

She explains:
When I use Goldberg’s exercise with writing groups, I read a passage that explains the importance of such exercises in silencing our inner editors:
"Our “monkey mind” says we can’t write, we’re no good, we’re failures, fools for even picking up a pen; we listen to it. We drift. We listen and get tossed away. Meanwhile, wild mind surrounds us—sink into the big sky and write from there, let everything run through us and grab as much as we can of it with a pen and paper. This is all about a loss of control."
Janoff then asks her students to do the timed writing exercise.  She may instruct them to:
write with a particular focus or to answer a certain question, or they may just write generally. I tend to make the exercise relevant to the memorandum or brief on which the writers are working, but its less technical aspects, such as writing the fact section. I instruct them to write for ten minutes without lifting up the pencil or ceasing typing or stopping themselves to edit or doubt. 
Janoff recognizes the challenge of this exercise for many writers:
Many writers find themselves uncomfortable with the concept of writing freely and nonstop. In order to break into this exercise, it is best to do it several times in different sessions, first for just a few minutes then gradually working up to ten or fifteen minute bursts. 
Goldberg analogizes it to running: “This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. . . . You just do it. . . . That’s how writing is too. . . . Through practice you actually do get better.”
She de-briefs the exercise by discussing the challenges and benefits of writing for a predetermined time without using the inner-critic and editor. She says:
[S]tudents often struggle with keeping their hands moving without stopping to edit or to doubt the quality of what they are writing. But they find that once they have persevered through the exercise and repeated it more than once, they have a body of written material with which they can work. Writers are generally pleased to have overcome their initial resistance. They gain confidence and walk away from the workshop with a body of written material to use as a starting point.
The take-away for me is this: Writing is not easy.  But, it does get easier with practice.  And, until we reach the point when the writing process brings us flow, joy, satisfaction, and success, we should be gentle with ourselves.  We need to find the tools that support our learning.  And, we should give ourselves permission to write imperfectly while we strive for perfection in the end.

Do you have a favorite tool for jump starting the creative writing process?  

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