Surprising benefits of free writing

Recently I was given the task of writing about ten things that happened at the weekend. By who? I hear you ask. Well anyone who knows me will have heard of Jo Parfitt; the book cook and my mentor guiding me on this writing journey of mine. Jo had the fun and new idea to set up an online writers’ circle where we would meet and ‘see’ each other for two hours; quite the challenge with the different time zones. The idea behind it to motivate and giddy us up to get the articles completed for this year’s book. Technology you have to love it, as we all connected via ‘GoToMeeting’, and there was certainly an excited buzz to be together again; March seemed a distant memory when we had all gathered as a team at the FIGT conference.

Speed writing- write until you are dry

Jo is a great motivator and loves setting speed writing tasks. She got us going with the warm up challenge to just write without stopping or thinking; using what we saw around us as inspiration. For me it was evening so I wrote about autumn leaves and curling my toes on the under-floor heating whilst others were at the beginning of their spring days in the UK or Europe or sweating it out in Dubai and KL. It’s amazing what can be done in ten minutes and we were invited to share what we had written. Free writing is a great way to extract all those ideas you didn’t know you had; like scanning your brain for those seeds of ideas that are yet to sprout and forcing them to come together on paper. The first thoughts are from the subconscious mind, which is always incubating ideas and making connections. Of course 99% of what we write most likely is nonsense but the 1% we do spit out from somewhere may actually be useful.

Like a mother hen Jo allowed us to vent and moan at the difficulties of writing our articles and our agonising lack of ideas for our obligatory blog posts. Then she encouraged us to keep our focus on the looming deadlines for their completion and why she chose us for the PPWR group “you wanted to be writers!” It jolted us back to the reality that we are all here to get the job done, and become the published writers we all dream to be.

After two hours Jo left a very energized group of women with the simple exercise “write down ten things that happened over the weekend, email me by Monday and we will share our ideas.” Easy, I thought, but being a writer where’s the fun in telling you “I fed the dog” or “I brewed some tea?” That’s when I paused and took a real hard look at what there was to love about the place I lived. It took some doing as it was a pretty dull weekend but I like to paint a picture with words so here we go. I want to get a message across without jamming it down your throat, which is to look around you, smell the roses, as there is real beauty even in the humdrum. I will never look at hanging out the washing in quite the same way again…

It’s Friday and in true South Australian fashion the power has gone out

1. On Friday night we ate at Fred’s restaurant in Aldgate; it’s our nearest village caught in a time warp circa 1940’s. We sat as usual filling in the gaps of the hours of absence during the week and reconnecting; always easier over a glass of SA’s best Shiraz and magical food that tempts us back time and time again. It’s our Friday night dinners’ when we get to know each other again and remember why we got married. Our marriage had not weathered the storm very well since moving to Adelaide three years ago; the stress of another relocation so soon after the last two had meant the cracks were getting wider. He was out at work all day; leaving me to figure out how to make a life and fit into a place where I had sprouted three heads and spoke a different language. We realized we needed date nights to keep the communication open and to remind us to keep applying the super glue.

2. There was a storm overnight and the house shook by the force of the wind. I lay there worrying about the huge trees that framed the house and gave resting place for our resident koala and the chuckling kookaburras who lined up on its branches each morning. The power had gone out so we were plunged into darkness and remembering the sofas and chairs outside I padded about bringing the cushions in out of the rain. I shivered as my cold wet feet touched the decking, as I hadn’t been able to find my slippers in the dark. I noticed the sweet clean air and the absence of ambient light that had created a sky studded with the brightest stars. It was a reminder of the simplest things that nature gives to us if only we take time to notice them. I jumped at the streak of lightening that illuminated the alpacas huddled under the weeping willow, its bare, pendulous form and long trailing branches sheltering them from the wind. It was one of the many ‘cannot be true moments’ that I have experienced living overseas.

Who do we share these moments with? And should we? Research shows that sharing experiences with the page reduces negative experiences and increases the positive ones. Sharing those writings with another reduces or increases them still further. I think this is why I started writing when I moved here it really helped me to process my thoughts and emotions. It seemed a better idea than taking a hammer to the wall to get rid of my frustrations at moving again.

Saturday and I want to lie in but as usual I wake up the same time as a school day

3. I woke feeling drugged and tired after lying awake most of the night, I didn’t really feel like facing the day but I dragged on my runners and encouraged Maverick off his bed and we ran in the sodden autumn leaves. The air was saturated with the intoxicating smell of damp eucalyptus leaves. There was stillness, that deep satisfying absence of noise that I have only found whilst living in the hills. I buried myself into the silence, and like meditation it calmed me. Moving here I have had to adapt, to find new coping mechanisms and to learn to see the positive side of living here and not to focus on the things that felt wrong or strange.

4. The installation of the swim spa and the house that we built around it was finally complete and the big day had arrived to fill it. Andy crawled on his hands and knees under the decking to work out how the heat pump worked. He came out puffing and out of breath; he hadn’t even got in the pool and done any laps so I am guessing it was a tight squeeze. Once again I pondered the zapping hours of his job and his lack of time for exercise or leisure, it’s something he seems to have lost control of and the price we have paid since moving here.

5. He started filling the swim spa in the afternoon; it needed eight and half tons of water so we waited patiently, watching the hosepipe as the water slowly trickled into the pool. We had dreamt of this day and it seemed a fitting occasion that we stood respectfully and acknowledged this momentous occasion. It signified that we had nearly got to the finishing line, and had left behind the difficult and rocky path we had trodden to get here. I felt like hoisting a flag as a mark of respect to this great man; he had dragged me over and over out of the murky depths of despair with his dogged determinedness to get the job done, and his motto ‘it will be okay in the end’.

6. We were supposed to go out and do something fun but we spent the whole weekend at home. I huffed and puffed at the volume of washing and the unseen force that kept dragging me back in the kitchen. I thought of our helper back in Malaysia and how much I still missed her. She had been so much more than an extra pair of hands; she had been my friend, my absent mum, a surrogate grandma and the comforting feeling of someone that had my back.

7. I took Maverick next door for his daily run in the paddock. He was keener to sniff and roll in the alpaca poo than to fetch the ball. He did it with such great delight it seemed a shame to stop him. The neighbor’s five alpacas were lined up like old men at a bar; giggling nervously as their heavy fleece coats shook with mirth. In his eagerness to be one of the boys he ran up to them, narrowly dodging their bizarre teeth that stick out horizontally from their jaw. As I stood in the paddock surrounded by the beauty of the hills I realized how much it had helped me offset the difficult times if I made the most of new experiences. For Maverick our loveable labra doodle our move had given him open spaces in which to run, and I am sure he wasn’t missing the sapping tropical heat and the Malaysians who ran away from him.

8. I stood there wondering if the alpacas were going to spit at me as they cleared their throats with a disgusting cough to bring up the undigested grass. Like a wine connoisseur they contentedly swill it around their mouths like a new glass of wine before swallowing it down with a smile. I am reminded of the joy of living in Australia’s wine capital; Andy delights in bringing another bottle home for me to try. He doesn’t even like red wine and I don’t like to see anything go to waste so really I don’t really stand a chance.

Sunday Rituals

9. I went to hot yoga Sunday morning leaving everyone else to sleep. It is so worth the early start to have that magical beginning to the day. They think I am mad but it is so worth it for the feeling after. The rest of the day seemed to be a bit of a blur of domestic stuff getting ready for the start of another week. I took the time though to watch the white sheets flutter on the line as they soaked in the fresh smells of the cool autumn air. Later I wrestled with the boys to get them back on their beds, and we sighed contentedly when that chore was over for another week.

10. The boys went to their piano lesson in the “big haunted house.” Tim their teacher told me of its future use as a film set for a boarding house horror move. I thought of my daughter Elise boarding over in Perth and tried to forget that I had been told this. The decision to board her had not been an easy one but she had been extremely unhappy moving from an international school in Malaysia to a school of local girls. Not wanting to shrink her mind or squash her personality I followed a gut feeling to move her. Now she is thriving and has found her place, her own identity and a feeling of home. It breaks my heart to think of her under someone else’s wing but it was the sacrifice I chose to make for her happiness.

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf

11. We walked into Stirling, which was ablaze with colour, settlers from the UK planted deciduous trees there years ago and it is such a reminder of my place of birth. Moving here in the winter three years ago I fell to pieces, it all reminded me of the home I never went back to. But like anything once the grief comes out and the tears have been shed, its over, time to move on and see the present as the reality that it is. And it’s stunning and I am grateful to be living in a bit of the UK that I left behind.

12. At the end of the day I sank into the bath in the room I had created. It has an amazing view that changes every hour and day as the seasons progress. The full moon illuminated the room and Andy had lit a candle inside the brass lamp, and balanced the last of the wine on the top. From the window I saw the shadows of the clouds scudding across the sky. It was mesmerizing to watch the changes unfold. I didn’t move, letting the thoughts come and go and enjoying the moment that was mine; time to unwind and just be. Staying grounded and centered is so important to keep you feeling at home inside. It is so important to stop and reflect on where you are. It is often lonely and isolated here and I spend so long with myself for company but that moment was magical and the perfect end to the day.

Let the creativity flow out

I got carried away and managed twelve things rather than ten but that is the beauty of speed writing, just to let it flow until it stops. It needs to be an explosion on the page, no holding back It is a place to be free to express how you really feel before the analytical editing and critical mind takes over. That’s editing but it has no place here, there is no judgment, no place for the small self to whisper in your ear. SO throw a book in the car, in your handbag, the kitchen drawer. And I always have one in my bedside drawer for when I wake with an idea ready to burst on the page. Be a kid; be free like dancing when you didn’t care who was watching. It’s just the page and you. Allow the fun in and who knows what other creative doors you might unlock.

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