A pen in the hand: a reflection on freewriting

Thursday, January 17, 2019
by Zoe Andres

When was the last time you sat down with a pen and paper, and just wrote something? I’m talking about you and your own creativity, no prompt whatsoever. I can guess what you’re thinking. University is busy and finding time is hard. Why use a pen and paper when everything is handed in electronically? Why would someone use writing as a break from more writing? These are valid thoughts, but before you tune out, let me tell you about my notebook, and why pen and paper have become my best friends over the past few years.

On the first day of second semester in grade twelve, the first thing my Writer’s Craft teacher said was that we were all going to need a notebook. Lined paper was not good enough; we were going to free write every day and we had to keep our work together. Sure enough, every class our teacher gave us a prompt and we wrote for at least fifteen minutes. Some of you are probably squirming at the thought while others are likely wishing you could have taken this class. Over the course of the term I filled an entire 120 page notebook and since then I have filled five more. None of it is even close to publishable, but that brings me to my point. The purpose of the notebook is so that I can write for myself. I sit down and just get my ideas on the page. It doesn’t have to be good because nobody is going to read it. It is for me and my thoughts.

brain made of puzzle pieces
I love looking back at my notebooks and seeing what was going on in my head at different points in time. The genres change constantly with no pattern. One section could be poem after poem after poem. Next, a ten page rant would be followed by a set of song lyrics and a to-do list. I taught pre-lifeguarding courses for a few summers and my lesson plans are there as well, with a poem about who-knows-what right in the middle. My brain doesn’t work in a linear or categorized way, so why should my unedited writing? My notebook frees me from worrying whether someone else will understand what I am saying, which allows me to let my thoughts flow freely from place to place. Life doesn’t always go as planned and neither does the writing process. The important thing is getting the ideas on the page, no matter how messy it is.

splatter painting
While the organization of genres may look like a splatter painting by an over-enthusiastic preschooler, my voice evolves over time. In high school, I wrote almost exclusively short stories and my poetry was clunky at best. Now poetry flows onto the paper for pages on end and my character development skills have stagnated. I tackle more difficult topics now too. Nearly every poem I write comes from raw life experience as opposed to something I’ve only heard about or seen from a distance. The themes hold together much better, and I’ve been able to share some of my work, but the pieces I hold dearest are the ones I keep to myself because of how personal they are. These poems exemplify how my notebook has become so important to my freewriting process as a method of doing something exclusively for me.

One of my favourite things to note as I look at my old writing is how the handwriting changes based on my mood. Some pieces start tidy and become more disorganized while the reverse is true for others. Sometimes I’ll see a section in all caps and it makes me curious as to what I was upset about. The best parts are where suddenly everything looks italicized because my notebook was on an angle or I just started and then discovered I enjoyed the shape. The handwriting style can feel like such a trivial aspect of the writing, but it forms an incredibly intimate connection. The writing itself is subject to censorship and editing based on what I feel I can write at any given time, but the handwriting tells the real story on its own.

My notebook is full of mediocre poems, to do lists, angry rants, and crappy short stories. It isn’t a journal, but it still tells my story. It shows my journey as a person as I completed grade twelve, started university, and lived away from home for the first time, but it also shows how I have grown as a writer. That journey is special, and would not have unfolded the same way had I not developed a love for freewriting with a pen and my series of trusty notebooks.