How I wrote 300,000+ words

IMG_6704.JPGI 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:

  1. Write what comes up for you;
  2. Don’t change anything;
  3. Include specific sensuous detail;
  4. Follow the energy; and
  5. 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.–2/x/13473794#/

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.


21 thoughts on “How I wrote 300,000+ words

  1. When I started my blog, it was and has been stories about my life’s events. After the trauma of dealing with my family history, writing my blog has been cathartic. However, now I feel empty of things to write about… or, I DID feel empty until my husband became ill. We’ll see how April’s A to Z Blogger’s Challenge treats me. Thanks for your wonderful advice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good luck with you A to Z, Gwynn, I’m joining the challenge this year too. It stretched me and helped me to grow as a blogger last year. And hopefully with spring here and a bit of boost from the community, you’ll have lots of ideas to explore on your blog.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve just scheduled my theme reveal post, Evelyn. Look forward to reading yours!
        We all have secrets, indeed. Except I’m considering sharing them with the world. One day. Thank goodness not today 🙂 It’ll take me a lot of guts to do. Thanks for reading, Evelyn. Your comment is much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I did Freefall in 2012 and would love to do it again—it’s hard at that time of year, though, as I always have a child doing end-of-year exams. Well done on all the words you’ve written and thanks for this reminder of how good Freefall is for writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I’m afraid retreats are a thing of the past for me while the kids are young. But I love writing this way. Some days it’s easier than others. And number of words is just that – a number. Some are great, and some just needed to get out of my system. Thanks for reading, Louise.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for sharing, Gulara. I hadn’t heard of this book before and was very interested to read of the process, particularly the ten-year rule. I love the way you talked about it being free-falling, and then discovering that you were actually flying. What a fantastic feeling that must be. I do wish Barbara well with the publication of her new book and hope that you get to hold it in your hands very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating. Not heard of this. I had a tutor in my early days of exploring writing for myself rather than others and he made us all wrote and not stop, not change anything. I fail miserably. Like you my legal mindset, while allowing me to splurge, self edits constantly, always stopping me going in some directions. I like the (in) discipline of this but I tend to fall flat at allowing myself to write all I think. I suspect I will need to survive all the people who matter to me before I can be no holes barred….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I cheat a lot 😀 I know I’m not meant to edit and yet the temptation to re-read and tweak things is way too strong. I’m doing it a lot less since I’ve started writing this way, especially when I write under the pressure of time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds great. I am devoting my weeks to learning to play violin and writing my memoir. I think I will try this plan you suggest. Sounds like it has worked beautifully for you. I want to write, using all my senses, and hopefully to come up with something powerful.
    Writing makes me happy, as I see it does for you, so it fits the theme for March perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope this method works as well for you as it did for me. I’m practicing violin too (I got inspired by your post, got a violin and a teacher and having a class once a week!) Both writing (a memoir, by the way) and playing a violin make me incredibly happy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Virginia, so touched to hear from you. I hope you enjoy Bloglovin. Thank you for reading my posts and sharing them too – it means a lot to me. Many blessings!


  6. The freefall system sounds similar to what I do, though I haven’t read the book so can’t say for sure. I don’t always get through a first draft without editing, but when I do, the writing has a much better flow, so I do try! At least, that’s what I do with shorter pieces, but with novels I’ve been more inclined to do maybe few chapters and then redraft. I did try to complete the first draft of one without editing, but it went so far off track that I put it aside and still haven’t got back to it 3 years on. (I still want to though!)
    I found the 10 year rule interesting, and can see why. I wouldn’t say I wait that long, but do find that I need distance from major incidents before I can write about them. Though I’ve written a few essays about my younger daughter’s premature birth, it took 16 years till I started writing a book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and your comment, Yvonne. I hope you get back to your novel. I know what you mean about writing without editing. In my case, it resulted in tons of material that I decided not to include. I wrote in no particular order, and bringing it all together was a bit of a challenge.
      At the moment, I need to pull together my second book. I’ve generated about 80% of material, but haven’t looked at it in the last year. In some ways, having that distance from writing itself helps too, because I don’t try to hang on to every piece. If it’s good and relevant, I include it, if not, there is no hesitation. There’s also less charge. I remember crying my eyes out writing some pieces. Now I look at those events with compassion, and it helps the editing a lot. Many thanks again for your generous comment.


  7. Pingback: Self Confidence and How to Grow It | Dr Gulara Vincent

  8. Pingback: When Writing Doesn’t Flow | Dr Gulara Vincent

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