A Different Take on Freedom and Writing

by Matilda Butler on July 4, 2013

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #105 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Freedom. Independence. Celebrations. The Fourth of July. And Even a Writing Prompt

2013-fireworks-memoirIf you happen to read this blog post on July 4th, then you are probably being bombarded with sales emphasizing the word freedom. Since we’re all memoir writers, I wanted to offer you a different take on freedom. One that doesn’t involve a sale. One that may surprise you as much as it did me.

The idea began the other evening as I watched the NewsHour on PBS and saw Jeffrey Brown’s interview with the lead guitarist of the Phish, Trey Anastasio. I am guessing that many of the readers of this blog have heard of Phish either because you became fans over the years since the band started in 1983 or because you have children who are fans. Anastasio is considered one of the top 100 guitarists in America and recently he even played with the National Symphony Orchestra. A pretty interesting person with a diverse music background. If you don’t happen to know Phish, let me add that the four-person band is known for lengthy improvisations. Fans have come to expect the jamming and enjoy how this approach makes each concert unique.

When asked about the jamming, Anastasio responded:

The way I see it, the freedom comes with an enormous amount of discipline first.

Then he went on to explain:

There’s lots and lots of hidden work and practicing that gets you to the point where you can play like that. And one of the things that we used to do as a band with Phish is that we would do jamming exercises.

Here are a couple of following lines from the interview:

JEFFREY BROWN: Jamming exercises.

TREY ANASTASIO: We didn’t want it to be a big mush of, you know, navel-gazing, self-indulgent solos.

JEFFREY BROWN: You wanted organized jam?

TREY ANASTASIO: We wanted organized jamming, yes.

So we would do very elaborate listening exercises where we would go around in a circle, and each musician would start a phrase, and then the other three would have to join in harmony or rhythmically.

We used to do rushing and dragging tempo exercises in a circle. It would be each person’s turn to drag, and if they dragged, we would have to go with them fearlessly. And if they rushed, we’d go with them fearlessly.

By now, you probably get my take on freedom and writing. If you want to write well, if you want it to seem easy, if you want your readers to enjoy the flow of your writing, then you need lots of practice and lots of exercises.

Glass Half Empty, Glass Half Full

While I was thinking about the way that freedom requires practice, I also realized that we are now half way through reaching the goals that we set out for ourselves on January 1. Did you make a series of New Year’s Resolutions? I’ve read that about 45% of people do.

If you have resolutions about your writing, are you achieving them? Don’t worry. I am of the Glass Half Full clan (although I have mixed heritage — my mother was of the Glass Half Empty clan while my father was of the Glass Half Full clan). This means that there are still six more months to achieve the 2013 writing goals. Didn’t make any resolutions? Now is a good time to consider:

How often you will sit to write.
How many words you will write each time.
What end goal you wish to achieve by December 31.

One thing’s for sure. To write with true freedom, to find your own voice, your own style, your own strengths, you need practice. While Kendra and I think the strategy for writing that we lay out in our award-winning book Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep provides you systematic practice, you may already have your own strategies in place.

Either way, we urge you to take your writing seriously and to make regular progress throughout the coming six months.

If there is anyway that we can help you achieve freedom through discipline, do let us know. We love hearing from you and helping you along the way.

Memoir Writing Prompt

We hope that this discussion of the importance of consistent writing will give you a nudge to refocus on your writing goals. And as has been found in field after field, writing down your goals and achievements is the way to make it all happen. So we suggest:

1. Write what you would like to accomplish in the next six months. Be as specific as possible.

2. Write down how often you intend to write and for how long each time. Can you write for 30 minutes each day? Maybe you can only write on the weekends. In that case, you’ll need to write for longer periods of time.

3. Where will you write? Some people find a Starbucks or Peet’s or name your favorite coffee shop. Others like the surroundings of home. We know of authors who take over a place in the attic. Try to have a regular “go to” writing place.

Then keep a log, a writing log, over the next month. It will help you achieve your goals.

Happy July 4th. Find your writing freedom through discipline and practice.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pamela Jane July 16, 2013 at

Matilda, what a wonderful post! It’s so true that good writing writing takes tremendous discipline. If an idea strikes you, and you have not made writing practice a discipline, most likely that flash of inspiration will go to waste. We have to work those memoir muscles!

Matilda Butler July 16, 2013 at

Pamela: You are definitely a disciplined writer so it means a lot that this blog post resonated with you. It is so much easier to THINK about writing than to DO writing. Reminding ourselves that it is just another discipline with goals to be accomplished helps. There really is nothing hard or magical about it. We just need to work our writing muscles.

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