As a writer, I’ve been willing to drive great distances to meet with other writers to join in their critique circles. But I was hoping to find something closer to home. When I saw a meetup notice for a writer’s group right in my own town, I was interested, but wary. You see, this wasn’t just going to be your average writing circle. This was going to be a “Free Write” group, where we’d be expected to produce material under the gun in response to timed writing prompts.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t keen on the idea of sharing my instantaneous utterings with the rest of the group. I tend to be a slower, more contemplative writer, and I don’t like to share anything until it’s had a bit of spit and polish. But the lure of meeting other writers nearby was too strong, so I packed up my laptop and headed over to the local book store.
There were about six of us in all, and we nervously gathered around the table as our moderator set up a timer and handed out cards with random words and phrases on them. These cards were meant to get the creative juices flowing, but of course, I took them as a challenge. Whatever I wrote was going to have to incorporate as many of these phrases as possible, I vowed.
That’s how it worked for the first exercise. I had picked a card that read “a mass of tangled branches.” We were to write for three minutes, finishing the phrase, “She didn’t know if she would ever . . .” In spite of my intent to approach the prompt as a technical exercise, what came out of me was dark, personal, and not something I especially wanted to read to the group.
But writing, as most other art, is all about taking risks. So when everyone else took turns reading their work, I read mine too, and I was startled by the variety of responses. We’d all been given the same writing prompt, but we’d come up with vastly different expressions in tone and tempo.
One young man wrote about a reconciliation between lovers that was funny and wise at the same time. Another author–one whose book recently made the best-seller list–wrote a snippet filled with suspense.
The Free Write experience was more of an eye-opener than I had expected, but I still wasn’t sure how this was going to help my craft. However, over the next hour and a half, as we ran through exercise after exercise, I realized I was developing a small cache of writing snippets that could easily be inserted into short stories, or essays of my choice. Some of the snippets made for excellent opening hooks. Others were creative tangents that could add color to an otherwise serious story, and ones that I wouldn’t have written cloistered at my desk by myself.
By the end of my first Free Write experience, I’d made some new friends and come away with a sense of renewed creativity, which was more than I had expected.
For writers who are experiencing a block, or who want to meet and experience spontaneous creativity with others, the Free Write experience is definitely something I would recommend. Even if a writer is shy about sharing his or her work, the intimate atmosphere of the experience encourages trust and security, so it’s worth taking the risk. If you can find a Free Write group nearby, join it. If you can’t, consider starting one of your own!