I saw my friend and colleague the other day. He is also a writer, soon to be a published author. He shared a spreadsheet with me where he keeps the track of the number of words he has written in the last year.
‘I only have a rough estimate,’ I said. ‘Probably several hundred thousands.’
When I came home, I did the maths. For the past three years, I’ve been incredibly privileged to be mentored by Dr Barbara Turner-Vesselago. Twice a month I sent her 12 double spaced pages of writing. That’s roughly 8,000 words a month for 36 months (I’m not counting any other writing like blogging, for example). I’ve written through two pregnancies, two emergency C-sections, sleepless nights and anything else life has thrown at me. How was it possible? I’ve got one word for it.
It’s an approach my mentor has developed and taught across the world. She published a book explaining this system in 2013. It’s called ‘Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall’ and, in my opinion, it’s the best book on how to write.
There are five simple precepts of freefall:
- Write what comes up for you;
- Don’t change anything;
- Include specific sensuous detail;
- Follow the energy; and
- The ten-year rule.
So, this is how the precepts work in practice: I sit at my desk and write whatever comes up. It’s not an automatic writing. It’s more allowing and writing whatever is ripe and ready. If I try to force it, I either get blocked or my writing runs out of steam by page 3. Whilst writing, I don’t change anything, even typos. There’s time for editing later. At this stage, I’m like a conduit, letting writing pour through me. All I need to do is to be present to the scene. It means turning on the volume on all five senses. Whilst including specific sensuous detail, I go where the energy takes me. Barbara calls it going ‘fearward’. Imagine writing down something you’ve never told anyone in your life. It has a charge so strong, it feels electrifying. That’s what I mean when I say ‘the energy’. Last but not least, the ten-year rule helps to write what’s composted and well-processed. If I try to write something more recent, there may be a temptation to interpret or even justify things. When I write about well-processed events, I let the reader to be the final arbiter.
I won’t lie. At first, following this approach was difficult. Sitting in front of the blank screen was utterly uncomfortable. I’m a lawyer by training. I’ve been taught not to open my mouth unless I know exactly what I was going to say. The same goes for writing. When I did my academic writing, I had to map out all my arguments and know exactly what was coming before I committed my first word on paper.
Surrendering to the writing process wasn’t easy. Writing this way felt like falling without a parachute. Except… at some point I started flying.
My most loved pieces are those where I fully surrendered. On those occasions, I just started typing up whatever came through, letting my fingers dance on the keyboard until writing flowed through me. What struck me most about those pieces was that they were not ‘obvious’ memories to write about, but by God they were potent ones.
Without a doubt, freefalling has changed my life. Writing my life down helped me to look at the events of the past with more compassion. Not only the process has been deeply healing for me, but I’ve produced hundreds of pages of writing, some of which is moving and powerful.
So, not surprising, I’ve been very excited all this week to find out that Barbara’s second Freefall book: Freefall into Fiction is written and ready for publication. There’s a slight problem though. Vala, her publisher in the UK, has unexpectedly shut down. Instead of searching for a new publisher and delaying getting the book out into the world, an Indiegogo Campaign was organised to help finance the editing and publication of this book. Here’s the link.
Please, help in any way you can. It’ll mean the world to me to hold this book in my hands, just as I held the first one.