Free Writing

by Gary Davison

When I was invited to write an article for this wonderful magazine, I immediately checked up on what others had wrote about the chosen subject of writing. It wasn’t until I was reading the article by Eliezer Sobel, a prize winning novelist, that I suddenly thought, ‘Am I qualified enough to write about writing?’

I have no qualifications in any aspect of writing. Nothing of note to speak of in that area, I’m afraid. However, my debut novel came out last year and my second is due for release in the summer, and I lock myself away for three hours a day talking to myself, and occasionally writing it down, so I’ve got to be as nutty as the rest of you that have taken this game up, haven’t I?

I’ve chosen something I’m doing at the moment between books, to talk about. So here goes…

Everyone who wants to be published writes for the same reason. Oh yes you do. You might love writing, get a thrill out of reading what you produce, an even bigger rush writing that first draft, or crave the escapism writing gives in abundance. But if you have, or do, send your baby out into the world to be read, you’re looking for a pat on the back. You can dress it up any way you like, but it is the truth. Every one of us would love people to read our story and say, ‘Jesus Christ this is it. You’ve hit the big time. You’re a literary genius, not only that, my old pal, it’s a commercial blockbuster, get on a diet quick we’re going to Hollywood.’

How much we want this is another matter. Some will swear that they are tortured minds and are dragged to the keyboard by an unknown force and are unable to stop themselves pouring out bestsellers – they are special. And also complete liars. Others are more honest and write for a market, trying to punt their wares to the highest bidder. Whatever your reason, if we the public know about it, you’re after the adulation – and there’s nothing wrong in that.

So here’s the thing. How can anyone know that they’re writing their best if they’re not writing what they want and how they want? How can you know it’s your best if you haven’t the foggiest what your best is? Until you write for you, and no one else, you will never write your best or know just how good a writer you are.

When I wrote my first novel, I learnt so much about writing and re-wrote it at least ten times. I learnt about structure, characterisation, plot, all the stuff that you need to know about, but that slows the fun down. In the end, the book came out fantastic, (blow one’s own trumpet, why don’t you?) but I don’t consider it to be my best. My hands were tied in certain aspects and I was working to a plot and there were only glimpses of me really letting go. My second book I wrote with a free mind and free hand. There was no holding back and it’s my pride and joy. I know it’s the best I’ll ever write. No semi-colons, no italics and only 165 pages. No research, popcorn fiction, simply having a good time. It’s with the editors at the minute so I’m expecting a battle to keep it just the way I want it, but I’m up for the challenge!

I’m busy writing a story now, based on two characters, which I know for certain will never, ever be read by anyone other than me. And, let me tell you, the freedom is unreal. You can say what you like, the way you like, get so far into the characters and go off on as many tangents as you care to. You can be as bad as you like or as heroic as you want to be, but one thing you get from this type of writing is imagination. Imagination running wild for days with nowhere to go other than a page ahead, and before you know it, you’ve banged five thousand words out and are having the time of your life.

And who knows where it might end up? You could write your way into a character or a situation you’d never thought possible, and something could grow from there. With no one else viewing it, you can go as deep as you want with thoughts, without being worried about what others will think. Free writing unlocks everything for you, but it can’t be done unless you’re completely honest with yourself and write knowing that you won’t be showing the final piece to anyone. I compare it to when I passed my driving test at seventeen. “Feed-the-wheel, feed-the-wheel,” the driving instructor demanded, but all I wanted to do was wheel-spin in the street and have a good time. Free writing is wheel-spinning. It’s so much fun and it could get you to produce your best ever work. I know what I’m saying isn’t revolutionary, but when was the last time you tried it?

Gary Davison’s debut novel Fat Tuesday was published last year by PaperBooks.

This is what he says about himself:

Writes, reads, runs, gyms, golfs, gambles, red wine, chocolate, Chinese, The Post Office, The Great Gatsby, A Clockwork Orange, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Vernon God Little, Papillion, House, Dexter, The Sopranos, PrisonBreak, Boxing, Newcastle United, the wife, the daughter, Sydney, France, Sydney, Newcastle, Sydney.

Visit Gary's website here.

For a printed edition of this article go here.


Paul Burman said...

And all the enthusiasm, energy, vitality that powers Fat Tuesday comes through in this piece too. This is something you can't get out of a bottle, Gary. Nice one.

Jon said...

Great article, Gary - thought-provoking, honest, stripping back the crap to reveal truth that many of us don't want to face - and whacking several nails really hard on the head.

But... one, of many thoughts which, like rabbits, have dashed out from the covers you've been beating. You say, "But if you have, or do, send your baby out into the world to be read, you’re looking for a pat on the back. You can dress it up any way you like, but it is the truth. Every one of us would love people to read our story and say, ‘Jesus Christ this is it. You’ve hit the big time. You’re a literary genius.'"

Does nobody write for any other over-riding reason? Is fame the only spur for all art? Isn't it possible to write, and be published, for the pure pleasure of it? For, if you like, the self-satisfaction? You say, "I’m busy writing a story now, based on two characters, which I know for certain will never, ever be read by anyone other than me." But what if this work is really good? Why are you, as an artist, so determined - I almost wrote, so selfish - you won't let the rest of the world read it too? Can't you allow us to enjoy it, judge it, not because we want to make you rich and famous, but because we'd like to read something which is very, very good?

I believe there are artists who aren't purely commercial. For those that are already famous, it's easier. For those that are struggling for recognition - and I use that word carefully because I think 'recognition' and 'fame' are very different - it's much more difficult.

Thanks for making me think: it does the old brain so much good, even if it is first thing on a Monday morning!

Stella said...

Mr. Davison, I doth protest - somewhat.

I'm really not keen on the fame bit. I admit that I like entertaining people and that I don't like the idea of failure, but I'm not looking for prizes. Money would nice though ;)

I sincerely doubt anyone will ever call me a literary genius. (That's an honest statement, by the way, not shameless fishing for compliments. I consider Jane Austen a literary genius and I'm not in her league no matter what parameters you judge by.)

Jane Turley said...

Well I'm fascinated by Gary's secret book. Now I'm guessing, but I think it must be pretty "hot". Is that's why you want to keep it a secret Gary? You don't want the rest of the world to see the "hotness"?!

Look, there's a big market for that kind of stuff! Don't be shy! And what's more I offer my services to proof read it. No fee!

I've got some ice packs and a damp tea towel ready - send it over!!

Anonymous said...

Is it safe to pop my head out of the bunker? No one around? I'll quickly post a response and make a run for it.

Cheers Paul, I need all the friends I can get on this by the look of it!

Jon - What I mean is, every single one of us, you included, want a bit of recognition, fame, respect, pat on t'back, whatever you want to call it, if you send your work out into the public domain with your name on it. HOW MUCH you're after, depends on the person. You might be 80% for you and the love of your art (like me :)) and 20 fame and fortune. But a little bit of you somewhere wants the nod of approval. Don't make me delve deeper and mention entering competitions and writing under a pseudonym!
Part 2 - Free writing is an exercise where you only benefit truely from it if you're in the mind set of being free from all constraints. If you happen to knock out something decent, of course you'll show it off - not for a pat on the back, though, heaven forbid :)

Sorry to offend Stella. I didn't mean to. I know what you're saying, but answer this: do you enter writing competitions under your own name? And if so, why?

Jane - I couldn't possibly tell you about this story. If I did I'd only be looking for a pat on the back, and I'm one of the chosen few who are only in it for the love it.

Stella said...


Wasn't offended actually. I just like saying "I doth protest." I don't have much opportunity for it...

I've never entered a writing contest yet, but when I do - it won't be under my name.

But your point is well-taken. (I'm not being stubborn.)

Eliezer Sobel said...

I have done a ton of "free-writing" over the years and found it very useful, particularly when stuck, but in my case I have also found over time that when I consciously allow for the presence of potential readers peering over my shoulder, it seems to bring out a voice I have come to prefer over the wild meanderings of my Kerouac-wannabe spontaneity, which I valued and thrived on for so long. Something about the presence of the reader brings forth a voice that is responsible for communicating something, and says things in a way I might otherwise not have bothered to form and firm up were I only writing to and for myself. (P.S. I once burnt about 15 years worth of journals because while the freedom was there, the communication wasn't. To combine the two elements is a goal worth going for...)

Thanks Gary! Eliezer

Unknown said...

Many years ago, I had hoped to write viable fiction.
"What happens to a dream deferred?" a great poet once asked.
In my case, after years of writing and being told that, sure, I was talented, very talented, just not marketable, I discovered I was not happy unless I was writing my eternally untenable, unsalable fictions.
Thus, I've developed a theory that serves me too well to let go. I believe no attempt at art is finished until another person brings his- or herself to the work, be it a painting, song, or story.
Fiction is so subjective, I distrust absolute statements about its merits. It may change my life, but not yours. Or vice versa. Ask me a few months later, and I'm apt to denounce my earlier opinion.
I do still "send out" my writing, still get a paragraph of lavish praise before the killing words:
That said
That said, what I write is as unsaleable and unmarketable as ever.
Praise be then to the internet. Of course, I don't make money. But if I'm to believe the "stat" engines, some people seem to read what I write. And if they do, they bring their life, their opinions, loves, hates, judgments, and wisdom to my words.
Maybe I'm shallow to consider that enough. But then for me, it's all I have.
Whoever reads my writing gives it life, whether they like it or hate it.
As best I can determine, sometimes my writing speaks to a few people and sometimes it doesn't.
Either way, to me, that's worth more than gold, which no doubt is precisely why I never will be successful.