The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: Your blog, ladyrandom.com, is about “prompts and process” and “moving from inspiration to draft.” How has your approach to the writing process evolved as you have evolved as a writer?
Gabrielle Freeman: My approach to the writing process has evolved as I have evolved as a writer in that I now employ a sense of play, and I try to make my process public or visible as much as is practical. I seek out new ways of having fun with writing, of letting myself go, of getting out of my own head. It’s possible that I am a person who likes to be in control, just a little bit, and I have found that it is really important to my writing that I relinquish that control. One of the ways that I do that is by letting in outside forces. Whether that’s in the form of a rigid poetic form or a prompt, the constraints free me from my own inner dictator. Just last night, I participated in a fantastic reading by poets who had agreed to write poems at the AWP conference using specific methods of found poetry set out by The Found Poetry Review, and then read them at an off-site event. I wrote four poems in two days based on constraints such as using only words found on swag from the book fair. Then I read them out loud to an audience. Making my process and poems public, whether it’s on my website or in a poetry challenge, has become very important to me, and it has become a part of my style.
RR: Why The Writing Works, a poetry-centered blog where you serve as a contributor, examines particular pieces of writing to figure out what makes the writing work. What have your critical examinations of other authors’ writings taught you about your own writing?
GF: My critical examinations of other authors’ writings has taught me a lot of things, but mainly it has taught me to do in my writing what I tell my kids to do: try new things. I learned that poetry can be funny and that taking risks with my writing is a necessity from studying and writing about Suzanne Cleary’s poetry. Risk and play make my writing better, in part because I am pushing myself and in part because I’m having a lot of fun. Why the Writing Works was created and is run by a friend of mine from my MFA. It has been really good for me to continue to look at poetry critically and actually write about it. It keeps me engaged in the poetry community and constantly trying to figure out what it is about a poem or a collection that I like. What did the poet do, exactly? I am a much more active reader and poet when I know a blog post is coming due.
RR: How do you approach teaching creative writing?
GF: Well, I don’t get to teach creative writing classes in my current position, but I consider all writing, including writing for composition classes, to be creative. I approach my composition classes in the same way I would approach creative writing classes, I think. I encourage my students to write about their passions. I encourage them to become active in their areas of interest. Most recently, I have been teaching my composition classes under the theme of fandoms and with a real focus on purpose, audience, and genre, or PAG. If a student is a fan of let’s say a really popular vampire book series, she might choose to write about gender expression in the series to an audience of high school students for the purpose of informing them about fluidity in gender expression. She might choose to compose this in the form of a tumblr feed or BuzzFeed list, something her audience would actually read or view. While creative writing is a bit different, it is helpful to think about your purpose, audience, and mode or form when writing a new piece or when revising an old one. Being open to hybrid methods of expression, hybrid genres, is important to creative writers’ ability to be fresh in their writing and to foster their continued love for writing, their continued sense of play.
RR: Your blog is full of different media of art, such as painting or cooking, that you tie in with your poetry. Do you have a favorite medium to pull from for you writing? Has there been a medium that you find particularly difficult to work with?
GF: I like to pull from tactile activities like cooking, painting, and drawing. I am a haptic learner. I learn and think better when I am moving, touching, and experiencing. I’m not very good at sitting still. Many times, writing leads me into an art project or a cooking experiment, and many times, the act of making art or food leads me into poetry. I have found that it is difficult for me to work from texts like in an erasure. It is difficult for me to take words from something I’ve read and make them something beyond the text; I have a hard time leaving the author’s intent behind. I do like to pull from multimodal texts. That’s my learning style coming out. But when faced with a source that is text only, I often get stuck.
RR: How do you know when a new idea is worth pursuing? What advice would you give to authors struggling with writer’s block?
GF: I know an idea is worth pursuing when it becomes something I have to do. I have two small kids, ages nine and six, and my writing time is limited. But when I am taking time for writing, when I am in the zone, when I put my earbuds in and am no longer aware of what song is on, then I know the idea is worth the time. What keeps you up at night? What makes you block out the noise of the tv or the crowd? I would advise any author experiencing writer’s block to try something completely new that contains an element of constraint. Do you typically write free verse? Write a sestina. Are you an introvert? Go to the function you don’t want to attend and force yourself to ask people questions, then write a piece using only their responses. Not into social media? Open a Twitter account (or use a friend’s) and click on a trending hashtag (on the left of the screen under “Trends”). Take the first five or ten tweets and write a piece using only those words. Sometimes changing the way you think frees you up and propels you right past that block.