Woman underwater blowing bubbles

“When I catch my breath up in my arms, so full of mourning, a caught in the throat breath, a too hard to let it all out at once breath, and I just try to make space for it, a cove, a crook of an elbow, a place to ease in and out, too fast and too constrained but still moving, still possible, still living, the only prerequisite to breathing. That breath – I tell it how very precious it is to me today.”

The constraint of a seven-minute timed freewrite, jumping off a prompt, opens me up to a grab bag of rapid phrases and images, ones that surprise and delight me. I find a visceral pleasure arising in me as I leap from word to word. I short circuit the part of me that plans ahead, or looks behind, the part well-versed in criticism. The stakes are low – no one creates miracles in seven minutes. Work with low stakes becomes play.

One of my joys during the pandemic has been freewriting, often with friends and monthly in a writing workshop I lead. Finding freedom within constraint, as I do with timed writing exercises, has been a constant learning in this year. How many times have I asked myself, if I can’t do what I used to do, what can I do now? It turns out to be a very useful question — one I could plumb in an essay one day soon.

For the moment, I’m just grateful for the unexpected details that emerge through freewriting. They hold up a mirror to an aspect of myself – in this case, a mix of pain, panic, and tenderness. Better yet, they provide fodder for a future paragraph or poem, a character’s musings, or an undercurrent that could give dimension to a scene I have not yet written. This particular freewrite reminds me of a character I abandoned in a work unfinished, and it makes me wonder if I might not be through with her, after all. Then again, perhaps she is composting into something new that with the proper constraints might emerge onto the page, to play.

Photo: engin akyurt on Unsplash


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