Writing with Power

I learned three important themes from Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power: freewriting, energy, and experience. Elbow describes freewriting:

Freewriting is the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all-around practice in writing that I know. To do a freewriting exercise, simply force yourself to write without stopping for ten minutes.

You can see that freewriting is a simple idea. It is also powerful. When I write without stopping, I don’t have time to pay attention to my inner critic. I almost always delve past my surface thoughts (the ones it’s “okay” to write about), and find ideas that surprise me in their energy, clarity, and “truth.” Much of what I write while freewriting is junk (as I later allow my inner critic to tell me). But I can find a single idea that has energy, I’ve spent those ten minutes well.

Freewriting is one way to create energy in my writing. Another is revising: Discard any word, sentence, or paragraph that isn’t carrying its weight. As Elbow says, “Every word you throw away means another unit of energy preserved.”

About experience, Elbow says:

If you want readers to breathe life into your reading so that they get a powerful experience from it, then you must breathe experience into your words as you write. I don't know why it should be the case that if you experience what you are writing about — if you go to the bamboo — it increases the chances of the reader's experiencing the bamboo. But that's the way it seems to work.

I’ve rescued more than one piece of limp writing by setting it aside, closing my eyes and revisiting the experiences that made me want to write the piece in the first place, and writing from that experience. In some cases I fold the new writing — which always has more energy — into the original piece. In most cases, I throw the original piece away and continue with the new.

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