Improvised Writing

by Jennifer Kayle

A translation of themes drawn from previous studio work:
  1. Shtick-busting (confronting habit) as a life practice

  2. You are the material – what you think, feel, do, imagine, try, sense, is a fundamental resource for your creative process.

45-60 min Structure:
  1. 15 minute free-write – respond to prompts.

  2. Rest

  3. Two ten-minute timed writings – Q&A for the non-dominant hand

  4. Rest

  5. REPORT: share a 2-paragraph reflection on your experience

Method: (improvisation with your pen)

I learned about this way of “free-writing” from Natalie Goldberg, author of “Writing Down the Bones.” Set your alarm for 15 minutes. Write with pen and paper and feel your arm as you think and respond and as you move your hand across the page. Address any or all of the questions below. Keep your hand moving and don’t stop. (Don’t stop, edit, reconsider, cross-out, or correct. Instead, just keep moving forward even if you want to re-think or contradict yourself.) Keep putting words on the page – even if they repeat, don’t make sense, say things you’re not sure about, or jump around from point to point. Any response is a fine response. Anything that you find yourself thinking, asking, writing, pondering is absolutely ok. Keep going. Even if you find you are writing about something that seems far afield from the questions, that’s ok. You could see if there is a remote connection to the questions to mine, or you could just let your words go where they want.


1. Fifteen minute free-write PROMPTS: respond to any or all

  • What do I catch myself doing that, consciously or rationally, I say I will not do, or don’t want to do?

  • Are there personal habits I find hard to address? Things I would ideally like to do, or not do, and yet it seems I find myself acting against my own wishes? Or “ways of doing” that I think would be best, and yet I go about things differently?

  • Are there goals I have set that, if I looked closely, I might discover are not my goals but ideas I adopted from others’ influence, example, or well-meaning guidance?

  • When there’s a schism between what I think is best and what I actually do, is it a question of bringing more attention to these choices? Or is it a question of revealing the underlying reasons or motivations for the actions I find myself taking? Is there a logic, or belief, or value, or fear behind what I actually do?

2. REST/Break [5, 10, or 15 min]: Suggestions- Take a short walk. Lie down and close your eyes. Meditate. Do your favorite yoga poses. Do some eyes-closed movement. Draw. Wash the dishes. Fold your laundry. Take out the recycling. NOT to do: look at your phone, communicate with anyone, watch TV, start doing homework.

3. Q &A: Based on your reflection, identify two questions you can ask yourself (i.e. “why am I majoring in political science?” or “why am I always late to [fill-in blank]?” or “why do I react to [person] with [emotion] when this always [fill in result]?” or “what prevents me from speaking honestly with [person] about [subject]? Or “why do I procrastinate instead of [fill-in thing]?”

  • With your regular (dominant) writing hand, write the question at the top of a page. Use the biggest piece of paper that you feel comfortable writing on (at least 8.5x11).

  • With your “other” (non-dominant) hand, begin to write and answer the question, following the same free-writing rules as above. Write for 10 minutes. Your handwriting may be awkward (or awful!). Keep going.

  • Take a breather. REPEAT with new question


4. REST (see above)

Prompt for Response

A few hours, or a day later, compose 2 paragraphs that summarize your experience with this improvised writing; articulate any connections you could make to our studio practice. You can discuss the process, what you noticed about your approach, parallels you can draw, or any discoveries you wish to share. Share your report in the comments, below.

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