Freefalling – writing without a Parachute – what does this mean?
It means stop thinking, analysing, criticizing and otherwise ‘getting in your own way’ in a writing sense, and let the words, experiences and feelings come in all their sensuous detail.
It is Freefall writing, a term Barbara Turner-Vesselago(most likely on her way back to Canada now, ‘sniff’. Why do I get so attached to my teachers/illuminators like this?), uses to describe a writing style she developed 30 years ago and teaches around the world.
I began the week, head stuffed with my own thoughts, carefully constructed ideas, prejudices and resistance, and have ended it completely changed. Barbara told us not to look at our work, let the raw material flow out and hand it in untouched. What!? I was horrified. How could I hand in or read out any old tripe to a writer, completely humiliating myself, breaking down my carefully constructed writer ‘self’ with all its tenuous trimmings?
Ah, but that’s the exact point. Carefully, intentionally and forcefully telling stories comes out stressed, unnatural and ‘blocks’ the flow of potentially really good material. You can always go back later revise, criticize and polish, but first…
Barbara told us the material her students started with was often autobiographical, a great source of raw material, but not too recent, she warned us, these things need time to ripen, compose, sift through. Well, I’m not doing that, I thought, revealing all, delving into deep dark things that made me uncomfortable.
I felt rebellious those first two days, resisting, doing it my own way, even considered not turning up or just handing in piece after piece of fiction, reviewed and polished, ready for sanitized, safe consumption.
But I’ve paid for this, I’ve come here to learn, to discover something new!
So began my process of surrender, my trust that my voice would be enough, that my experiences not trivial or indigestible or told badly.
Bravely, sweat on the brow, fingers trembling, I handed it in. Barbara smiled, in that serene way, knowing, it seemed that something was going to happen, that I might just progress past overwritten, prefabricated worlds full of clever words and safe emotion, to something more.
Then I heard my own work in her calm accent, flowing out through the room. My heart drummed like a washer on the spin cycle, my hands grew clammy. What guff, I thought, what boring rubbish! No artistic flourishes, no sensuous detail. They’ll hate it.
But…what’s this colour, this interesting stuff?
They didn’t hate it and, importantly, neither did I. I had reported experiences, incidences, just as they were, and it was enough. Imagine.
I felt heady elation. If that stuff; that thing I’d written, wasn’t a boring piece of tasteless cardboard full of moth holes, maybe I could do it again.
I tackled another memory. I tried to remember the detail, report accurately and with a gentle observing eye, everything that happened. I remembered to add or at least remember the sensuous detail. I read back over. Oh crap! What a dry piece of cow turd lying, baked and empty in the sun.
I handed it in. Deep breath.
Again, it sounded okay, better than okay. Did I already have this illusive ‘voice’ thing? Was my voice already developing, could it be acceptable?
By the end of the week, I completely surrendered to the process. I delved and trusted, jumped from the plane with a blindfold on and without a parachute.
The immediacy of meeting daily, getting written and verbal feedback from Barbara and the group, was invaluable. The venue was beautiful, quiet, a pleasure to head towards day after day.
I believe I was lucky with the people who chose to attend this year. A great bunch to take this journey with, and a journey it was. I feel a little spent, a bit brain fried, but so very optimistic, excited and relaxed. If I need more, I can always go back next year, and I have a copy of Barbara’s book to refer to.
But most of all I am left with a wonderful discovery: I have a voice and it is enough.