Free writes are a staple of writing workshops. Gurus like Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within) frequently advise writers of all ages to just keep that pen moving across the page. It doesn’t matter what you write in the first draft, just get some words down. And it is good advice. Before I start a project and every time I get stuck, I put my fingers on the keyboard and type ideas, questions, fears, memories, and anything else that comes to mind in a random manner. I don’t worry about figurative language, clichés, or didactic phrases. I just get words down, something that I can re-read to rework later.
Here is an example of a free write I did for a poem later called “Daddy and Venice.”
The final poem, published in Imitation Fruit, May 2010.
had only one line from the free write: “dressed in pigeons.” I used that image to describe what it was like to feed the pigeons in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice when I was a girl.
So how did I transform a free write which essentially says I don’t remember much beyond the pigeons and my father’s desire to show me the beauty of Venice? My poem makes references to the Doge’s palace, a grand staircase, gondolas with Persian rugs and velvet seats— details I absolutely did not remember from my eight-year-old-experience in Venice. How did I do it? Research! I went to Venice travel sites and used the facts I found to create imagery in my poem.
The next time you study countries, ask your students to write a poem using highlights described in their research. Travel websites are designed to entice the reader to spend the necessary dollars to see that not-to-be-missed vacation spot in person. They are great sources of persuasive language and generally chocked full of sensory images. Using interesting details spices up any piece of writing.