“You write, and let the writing teach you what you need to know.”

Barbara Turner-Vesselago, Ph.D.

Interview by Diane Kiesners,
The Writing Space

Trust and Forgiveness
Excerpt from an interview with Barbara Turner-Vesselago, Ph.D.


Freefall is a way of writing which teaches people, very quickly what I consider to be the essentials. First off, you don’t sit around thinking about writing: you plunge in and write. And having started, you don’t stop yourself. I don’t mean that you write without stopping – it’s not that – rather that you learn to write without dividing yourself into the writer and the reader or critic. Your job is to write. To that end, you don’t change anything. You learn to let it be, and then see what you’ve written somewhere down the line.

You learn to write without dividing yourself into the writer and the reader or critic.

And once you’ve learned to enter another world than the one you’re sitting writing in, you learn to stay there. Stop. Look around. Take in (and write down) all the sensuous details. Follow the energy that’s there for you, and see where it takes you. Stay with what’s happening no matter how intense it gets instead of, say, going to the fridge. In other words, you write, and let the writing teach you what you need to know.

As I understand Freefall, at least at the outset it has a lot to do with autobiographical material. Do you find that just the process of revealing those things about themselves to other people in the group also heightens the energy of the group and makes it cohesive in a way that other kiNds of writing wouldn’t?

There are several aspects to that question. I’ve said to myself a number of times over the years, “Can you say that it’s going to be autobiographical material?” And this is what will happen: “you will now write autobiographical material.” But I’ve never been willing to say that. I’ve always said, “Write what comes up for you.” Some people will write a certain amount of autobiographical material, but some people, especially men, will often take off into something that’s complete fantasy. And that’s really just as useful. You know? It’s going to have all the same problems and the same criteria. It’s all going to require the same skills.

So that by saying it will be autobiographical –

They will limit it to that. Yes. I think that will happen. But the other thing is, it’s impossible to separate the two strands. Because when writers are deeply into a scene that is no trouble for them to imagine – if they are in fact largely imagining, but think they’re recalling – they will then really let go in a way that they wouldn’t let go into something where they were always wondering, “Is this believable?”. Of course it’s believable, it happened. So they’ll just enter into it fully. And that kind of authority will open other people up. So I’m not even sure if it’s the fact that it’s autobiographical material and they’re revealing something about themselves, or maybe even admitting something to themselves for the first time, that heightens the energy. I think it may be just the experience of hearing somebody truly standing in their own authority, and speaking from there, that does open people up and let them say, I can have authority about things too.

And it creates a sort of context of safety.

Yes. You know, for some reason the subject matter is never separate from the quality. When they’re really, really on the current of authentic, authoritative story, the quality of the writing is so good that people in the group begin to relinquish all their doubt about the process. So do you see what I mean about it all being intertwined? People will think, “Oh the class is working okay, I’ll jump in too.” And they will jump. […]

It’s an important question because I realize again and again that the reason I teach these precepts is that they seem to me to be the fastest shortcuts to learning about writing. It’s not my purpose that people learn to write about their past experiences. It’s my belief that if they don’t prevent autobiographical material from coming up, then it will teach them an enormous amount very fast about how to stay involved and immersed in a situation as they write.