What is holding you back from writing your story?

We all have stories to tell - important, funny, transformational narratives that only we can share. What holds you back from writing your story? For me, the hardest part is getting started. Once I immerse myself in the storytelling, the words and thoughts flow. It is the angst and uncertainty that precedes entering the first words that holds me back. Will I really be able to convey the story in a way that is authentic? Can I get the people and the events to emerge from my brain to my keyboard? Is my work worth reading?

If you struggle with some of these same doubts, I encourage you to breathe deeply and read Dr. Dar’s introduction to freewriting. Her techniques will have you “...writing with abandon and in a voice that is deliciously your own.”

~Kim Winslow


freewriting: a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set amount of time without attention to punctuation or spelling.

Freewriting, in other words, moves quickly, not allowing us to overthink a topic. It is designed to help us ignore the critical voices in our heads that demand perfection or that remember stinging critiques from teachers, well-intentioned mentors, or perhaps bratty friends.

I like to think of freewriting as the act of writing with abandon and in a voice that is deliciously your own. An authentic voice. One that speaks the truth as you know and have experienced it. A voice that isn’t concerned with the number of likes it receives on social media or with being named Most Popular in the school yearbook. A voice that values the complexities within people and the unanswered questions in our lives.

As you respond to writing prompts, keep in mind that they are meant to unlock your stories, not to overly direct or define them. In other words, if you find yourself veering off track, thinking that you have abandoned the original prompt, then I say go where your thoughts have taken you and enjoy the adventure. These are your stories. As you tell them, be the eyes and ears of your readers. Write to their senses. Help them to feel the cool silk of the dress or the moist catcher’s mitt in July. Help them to smell the sweet holiday kitchen or the steamy barn stall after a storm or the dank platform of the subway.

Set your timer to what feels comfortable to you. In my Freewrite Fridays classes, we normally write in ten-minute blocks, though sometimes we write for twenty minutes. I’ve known people who wrote for three minutes and others who wrote for an hour. If you find that you don’t know what to write, then just write that statement—“I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write” over and over until your story begs to come out on paper.

Remember to take care of yourself as you write. The physical act of writing, while seemingly benign, can be damaging to your body; the emotional act of writing, while often healing, can also take a toll. Be compassionate with yourself. Make certain you move and stretch. If possible, breathe some fresh air. Feel the warmth of the sun, sit under the stars, play your favorite music, listen to the songbirds, look into the eyes of a child, stroke your animal companion, take a moment to be grateful, remember a time that made you smile. . . .

Thank you for sharing your stories. I believe that your decision to write with honesty is an act of courage.

Darlene O’Dell

Asheville, North Carolina

Dr. Dar has shared some writing prompts in her new book, Dr. Dar’s Freewriting Prompts: Volume 1, which is available from amazon.com. To read more about freewriting or writing practice, see Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and the works of Peter Elbow.

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