Brilliance, Stupidity, and Lemons: It’s Time for Free Writing

20170624_091249I am raising a toddler. He switches from ABC to 123 to twinkle twinkle as stream of conscious ramblings lead to an ocean of discovery, and eventually a nap. He plays with sounds, saying “car, caaaar, cart,” just to feel the difference.

He has linguistic freedom that few adults still possess. It’s the freedom to make mistakes: moco-bicycle (motorcycle), gump (jump), and pintable (pineapple). In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg helped me realize the value of this exploration:

The aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel…You are not carrying the burden of ego in your expression, but are riding for moments the waves of human consciousness and using your personal details to express the ride.

As a mom I get to widen my son’s field of discovery and gently correct his mistakes, but as a writer I get to learn from someone who is artless and experimental. I am relearning something I have long forgotten, to set aside personal, familial, societal, and even professional expectations, and explore without worrying whether or not it’s a ‘waste of time.’


Goldberg has filled dozens of notebooks with blather and poetry. She lets herself write without destination. Most of those words are set aside and never looked at again, but they aren’t wasted. She encourages her readers to lower the bar.

If every time you sat down, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment. Plus that expectation would also keep you from writing.

I tried to take her advice, but digging into my gut instincts meant fighting through layers of psyche. It it took time. I was uptight, grammatical, but I pushed through. My mind loosened up. Stress slipped onto the page and, when it ran dry, I turned a leaf and played.

Rest, and waiting for it to shatter. A little stiff, anticipating, but trying to taste the moments of silence.

Neck snapped for my health. Crackle-pop crick-crack geronimo.

Where is the in-between? I used to have it, but it got buried under a pile of toys. Balls, trains, dump trucks, and lemons. If I pull it out, rinse it off, will the wheels still turn?

The tidbits of thought got weirder as my my brain let go of its control-freak ways. Bizarre metaphors twisted through incomplete sentences and random words popped in just to see if they were welcome. With each page my writing got worse and worse but somehow became more true and more electric.

Free writing is the gateway to magical realism. It’s all the unexpected beauty that I want to create. Maybe the best way to find brilliance is to let yourself be a little stupid. Are you up for the challenge?

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