Around this time last year, I participated in a Freefall writing course with Dr Barbara Turner-Vasselago. Barbara travels internationally facilitating Freefall workshops in Canada (where she lives), the US, England, Portugal, Bali and Australia.
How would I describe Freefall? I’ll start with Barbara’s words:
‘Freefall invokes the courage to fall without a parachute, into the words as they come, into the thoughts before they have fully formed in the mind, into the unplanned structures that take shape, without prompting, to contain them.’
This is the basic premise of Barbara’s teaching: to sit and write, and let the writing take you where it wants to go.
There were twelve of us in the course last year – two men, the rest women. It ran over six days and was non-residential. We spent the mornings at home writing, and the afternoons at the workshop. Each afternoon, Barbara read excerpts of people’s work from the previous day, then we talked about each piece. All work read was anonymous.
During the course, I had intended to write fiction and progress my novel. I soon realised the course leaned heavily towards autobiographical writing.
‘There’s nothing like autobiography to warm your fiction,’ said Barbara.
Okay, I thought. I’ll trust you …
Freefall has five main precepts:
Write what comes up for you.
Write without a plan and go where the writing leads.
Don’t change anything.
No editing. Absolutely no editing.
Give all the sensuous details.
Describe how things look, sound, feel, smell, taste.
Go where the energy is for you: go ‘fearward’.
Don’t baulk if there’s something you’re frightened of writing about — write towards it.
The Ten-Year Rule.
Ten years gives time for memories to ‘compost’, as Barbara calls it. Especially emotionally charged memories.
Each day, our homework was to write ten pages. Someone asked what topic to write on. ‘Anything,’ said Barbara. That was all we were given. Home we went and wrote. On anything. Ten pages.
I went to bed and only half-slept — my brain was worrying about my ten pages. When I awoke, I climbed from the bed and went straight to the computer. No emails or internet checking, straight from sleep to writing, and wrote my ten pages. With no editing. Going fearwards. Worried that everyone else might be playing it safe while I was stepping into minefields. I didn’t re-read it before I handed it in.
I relaxed as soon as Barbara started to read — we had all written fearwards. And the writing was beautiful, raw, and honest. And when Barbara read out my work, I almost didn’t recognise my words …
Each day, I sat and wrote my unedited prose. I adhered to the precepts like a good student, and let the energy take over. I wrote to places I hadn’t visited before. Very difficult places. These places, though tough to visit, were charged. Some charged with tension and anger, confusion and fear; others with love and tenderness.
Freefall allows the subconscious to rise and take over. It’s a matter of trusting it, not being frightened of it, of staying with it, of allowing yourself to sink into it — and then finding the treasures buried below. Sometimes, my writing wanted to go to places I wasn’t expecting and I hesitated. Or it wanted to go to many places at the same time and my fingers couldn’t keep up. Sometimes, it brought up memories that I thought I’d forgotten. Sometimes, I had to stop to wipe my eyes. Sometimes, it went full circle and brought me back to where I’d started. My subconscious self seemed to know me better than my conscious self, and knew where it was going even when I didn’t. I learned to trust it.
A memoir piece I wrote during Freefall will be published in an anthology coming out in November. I wrote the recent series on my sister’s death using Freefall. Importantly, the lessons I learned in Freefall have helped all my writing — the precepts have filtered through and ‘warmed’ my fiction, just as Barbara said they would. Of course, I eventually must edit writing I want to publish!
So, for whom is this course? Any writer, no matter how inexperienced or experienced, anyone wanting to deepen or strengthen their writing. Not just memoir, but fiction and poetry, too.
There are still some vacancies for the non-residential Freefall writing course which will be held in Bicton, Perth, from 11th – 16th November 2013. If you’re interested or have any questions about Freefall, please contact me through this website or message me via Facebook. Alternatively, contact Rosemary Stevens, the Perth convenor, at [email protected] or on 08 9339 2029.
More information on Freefall can also be found on Barbara Turner-Vasselago’s website, Freefall Writing.
Barbara also has a book, Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall, which is available from her website and online book stores.