Process–Free Writing–Definition and Rhetorical Necessity

I have wanted to write about this topic for a while–to make it clear to whomever might read this blog and also for my only personal edification. I have wanted to define free writing–not just to explain my horrible grammar and syntax and also my lack of typing skill. But I find it important to note that this blog represents my failures– and as a heuristic for the process of writing that must be crucial–again not as an excuse but also as a rhetorical concern. Perhaps even my aesthetic carried out on a daily basis.

But Thank you, Will, for reminding me of why I have this blog. I told Will that usually the free writing is so far rfom the final product because I revise so often and so rapidly. I have no pretense that my goal is produce the best text and best story. To think of process and to articulate that my writing concerns and my rhetorical concerns are not too different from my students and student writers in general. I still am very much of a student of writing–a student of novel writing and that is a large part of my creative literacy. 

Anyway, here is how Wikipedia defines free writing:

  • Free writing (also stream-of-consciousness writing) is a writing technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but allows a writer to overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. It is used mainly by prose writers and writing teachers. This technique is also used by some writers to collect their initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, and is often used as a preliminary to more formal writing. It is not a form of automatic writing. 

Now my free writing might be more focused but I still feel I am finding the book and have to say I ave gotten rid of quite a few lines and passages I find I might not use. But more and more I am finding this weblog or blog or whatever you want to call it as crucial to generating the habit of writing and the generating of choices.


So great to receive some specific editorial comment:

Dear John Paul:

Thank you so much for submitting your work to the Copper Nickel.

The entire fiction staff really admires “Rabbit Story.” However, we are a
little confused about what happens to the young girl who dies in
childbirth, a little confused about the timeline of the story the uncle
tells, and the last paragraph or two seems a little tidy to us. We would
love to accept the story if you would be willing to consider some minor
revisions. If not, we hope you will consider sending us some more work in the near future.


Jennifer S. Davis


Dear John Paul:

I am thrilled to hear that you are willing to consider revisions. I would
like for two of the head fiction editors to provide me comments about
their confusion/concerns, and then I will send you a collated list. It
should take two to three weeks. Will that work for you?

Thank you again!


Fictive Bearings

Taking a five  minute break from grading Lit 110 midterms and Iwant to get down some notes on next few Little Lolo Stories. I think and hope I am close to a resolution but my process is so circular–and the chapters feel good as theycome and as I write them so I am not to worried about completion. I’d like get a full document/outline to edit and revise this summer.

Here are some chapters I need to flush out for the Little Lolo Stories:

  • ch over Jefe’s bills and worry and little black book of debt, mortgage and bills and obsessing over conscientiousness
  • ch over scene in Jorge’s–scene where Jefe defends kids and show he can take them to a restaurant and lighten up–leads to fight scene
  • ch or scene over more of a compromise over new baby on the way
  • ch on Jefita and her lack of driver’s license and also her feeling of being trapped
  • ch onthe house and the feel of the house–more textures of the house
  • last or late ch where the crew of boys/Jefe and Jefita visit Mitedio in jail
  • early ch between Lolo and Mitedio and advice on being a man

city lights bookstore

city lightsA few summers back I found myself in San Francisco after an incredible train ride across the country and found CIty Lights Bookstore the famous meeting place of my favorite Beat writers. I was in San Francisco for two days and went there each of those days to sniff around the basement and the second floor where the readings take place. And I’ll never forget but up on the third floor I found the back window open and a homeless man screaming as some restaurant owner was asking him and then ordering him to leave. The man kept yelling he was a man and that noone should order him around. He sounded crazier and crazier and I loved it–the spirit or the voices of the world came in from the window to my polite quiet self browsing books and the cheesy, touristy posters.

city lights door

Process Note–Little Lolo Stories

I think I might know where the Little Lolo stories might be heading–and it all goes back to the death of the Jefe or the death of my Grandfather in the late 90’s. I might have to jump ahead that much because when the Grandfather died there was a funeral and mourning but not like a lot of people I knew–there was more of a dash for things because the Grandfather had no will. He had some life insurance left to some cousins of mine but nothing else. And because the boys got along so poorly there was no real coming together of the family–only bad feelings.

The Tios changed the locks on the house and then soldthe house–they found the Jefito’s treasures–some coinc and an old army sidearms the Jefe was supposed to of had. They went through his tools and his belongings–old saddles and things like that.

imagesWhat I have left–the only thing I have left and probably the oldest possession I can remember having is a Korean era canteen–the holster is dated 1949 and the actual metal container is dated 1918. I read it last night for the first time in years. I imagined as a kid it was the Jefe’s from WW II but it might have been thebrothers from Korea. I remember the Jefita used to poor baking soda inside to clean it and D says it probably has lead in it–pewter(sp?) I guess–and D says that has lead in it.

I remember wearing it on fishing trips and wearing it around the old house on Spruce. I thought it was what men wore–men like the Jefe. Men who smoked and had tattoos.

Oh when the Jefe died there was a much famed little black book of money owed and expenses never recouped (sp?). My sister was in it for an extension cord is what the Tios said. And I wonder if I was in it for a box of baseball cards–the car lock I busted or the tape measure I broke.

Anyway, long story short, I want to return closer to the present and the house on Spruce being locked up and sold apart and then finally sold. I also have an image of the Tios busting the back of an antique dresser because the Jefe had a lock on one of the draers where he kept his army documents and coinc and the antique sidearm. It seems sad they did that but the Jefe was such a hard man–such a tough disciplinarian and old time man as my sister put it–they had noproblem busting it up with an axe for what they felt to be rightfully theres. SO the tools and the guns are gone–the saddles are out in Denver or in CO SPrings now with the boys–but I have the stories and I have the will to vision everything. To deal with it in words the boys didn’t have.

Hornsby on Rushdie

I have been following Nick Hornsby’s blog pretty closely–I like the way he brings pop culture and the literary together. He reads and watches everything. Here is an excerpt about failure:

Salman Rushdie, writing in the Guardian about film adaptations, tells us that “the failures are so much more frequent than the successes”. Well, yes. But what about original screenplays? How’s the strike rate there? And novels? Even novels with serious literary intentions? Poems? Plays? Marriages? Lives?

Thoughts on Process

I only had a few personal conversations with Tracy Daugherty back at Oregon State–a writer I more and more admire lately–and most of the time spent with him was in class or with lectures. I even went to some of his classes without being registered in them just to hear him lecture. But we had a conversation at his house about teaching yourself to write. He told me it took him years to teach himself how to write a novel. I thought about that for a long time–I still think about it.

I think he meant exactly what I am doing–maybe what Kim is doing in her new blog which I am so happy to be following by the way–teaching ourselves how to write like ourselves. Sure we use models–I use them a lot and I feel I wouldn’t have progressed these past few months where I seem to be very productive but I wouldn’t have done it if not for Wallace Stegner’s essays and short stories–I found a few of his books in Colorado Springs this past summer and even some in California last year–at City Lights Book store. I feel if it weren’t for his short stories focused on place I wouldn’t have written Farmhouse in the Lanes–I wouldn’t have pushed myself to think about Blende and Vineland trips with the Grandfather when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have written the chapter about being stuck in the mud– I wouldn’t hve gotten going with my own pplace stories.

So now I think I get it. You have to sit and work it out on your own. We can talk about it all in workshop or in email but we need to get these problems answered for ourselves. Like Hugo writes–the biggest arguments you will have is with yourself.

Or like Lolo said–you only learn by doing, Manito.

Thoughts on Process

I had so much interest in responding to Kim’s weblog and her thoughts on voice I thought I would post the response:

I have relaxed so much on voice and even stealing. I have been reading Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Singing from the Well by Arenas and I am stealing. I am not plagiarizing but I am stealing. I like the idea of stealing and not borrowing, meaning I allow myself to follow their scene and summary pattern like following a specific outline–I give them to my students in Comp and they write better more organized papers. So I tell myself I will write this many words of summary and this many words of scene. It helps me–and I bring my own worlds to that outline.

As for voice, I really have relaxed on that too. I tell myself to just tell the story in a simple way–I call it free writing or whatever–but it helps me get it down. I feel I have allowed myself to fail–allowed myself to create something to hack away at. Also David Keplinger asked me specifically who I wrote to. I had no idea what he was meaning. And then he asked again, who do you write to? Like I am writing a letter or a note to somebody and that was exactly what he meant. He told me he imagined writing to whomever he was dating at the time–or a cousin on the phone he hadn’t spoken to in a long time who he really wanted to understand. I keep that in mind and just allow myself to tell it–like I’m talking to you or D in a coffee shop and really want you to empathize with the old neighborhood or Lolo. I think that is important–we allow ourselves to just tell it before we get into higher thoughts of rhetoric or intent.

A Small Thought on Process

Writing is coming pretty furiously lately. I have so many notes right now I feel as if I am writing to keep up with the trajectory of the work. I have notes for at least another 4 or 5 chapters of the Little Lolo project. And they seem so clear to me–scary because I hate to lose that feeling of ease in drafting/free writing the chapters. But I feel like I know where the story is going–and I will write them here so I do not forget–but I feel I know that the foster kids need their own chapter as they come and go from the family; also the Metedio trip to dog track and trip to the Mexican Drive In needs to be resolved; I also feel that Metedio will go to jail like the real Tio and the family will visit him in Canyon City–probably for petty theft; I also know that the Abuelita will become pregnant with another kid and also that Relles and Lolo get into it over work and chores; Lolo will push Relles of the roof while playing and fracture his skull.

I know these things because I have them down in my notes and I can fully explore them while I free write. I seem to allow myself to fail in more powerful ways since I started this weblog and force myself to write everyday. Along with rough work and failing, I also seem to find some gems or real powerful threads to the narrative. Allowed me to find little Lolo from the pictures I have and also has allowed me to find Metedio and the fosters.

What I am worried about though is the ending notes of the Cornbread project–I feel as if that one will take quite a while to resolve.

In that project I feel later scenes from the time line of Cornbread’s and Manito’s life–more up to date experience. I also need to rewrite or continue to work on the material I have with Lolo and Manito. Hopefully I will have a breakthrough on that project the way the research about the real Cornbread Baca gave me insight into that project–helped me to find Bea and also to find Rudy and Rosalie.


(I’ve been thinking of taking the Little Lolo stories into some interesting places–the Tio and the Grandfather used to scare the crap out of me with the Coco Man since I was a little kid. And until I was 12 I was so afraid of their old basement and the furnace and the dark, dank basement I slept in that I can only imagine how the Uncle was scared when he was a kid.)

According to Wikipedia:

Traditionally, the coco, or its feminine counterpart “coca”, is represented by a carved vegetable lantern made from a pumpkin with two eyes and a mouth, that is left in dark places with a light inside to scare people. The vegetable lantern is similar to the Jack o’ lantern. Coca the dragon is another representation of this scary being and is present in the folklore of Portugal and Galicia. The name of the “coconut” derived from “coco” and was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama because it reminded them of this mythical creature.[citation needed]

The legend of the Cuco began to be spread to Latin America by the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers.

There is no general description of the Cuco, as far as facial or body descriptions.

The legend of the Cuco is widely used by parents in Spain and Latin America in order to make their children go to sleep. Parents usually tell small kids that the Cuco will take them away if they don’t fall asleep early. This method has been in use for decades now.

The Coco method is very popular among parents from Dominican Republic to Argentina. In many countries, the character has different meanings: in Mexico, for example, parents prefer to call Coco the similar name “Calaca”, which also means skeleton there.

Dominican Salsa-Merengue musician and singer Cuco Valoy makes several humorous references to the myth in some of his songs (¡ahi viene el cuco, mama!).

Puerto Rican musician Angel Peña’s nickname is “Cuco”, an allusion to the legendary myth.

In Peru “Cuco” is used by parents in order to make their kids do something; for example: eat their food, go to sleep or do their chores.

In Brazil Cuco appears as a female, ‘Cuca’. Cuca appears as the villain in some children books by Monteiro Lobato. Artists illustrating these books depicted the Cuca as an anthropomorphic alligator.

In Northern New Mexico, where there is a large Hispanic population, El Cuco is referred to in its Spanglish name, the Coco Man. His image is construed with Brazil’s sack man; he carries a bag to take naughty children around Christmas time, and demands repentance in the form of Catholic prayers.

The Bogeyman (or boogeyman) could be considered an English equivalent of the Coco, since both monsters attack children who misbehave.

The following is a popular lullaby (with the “Rock-a-bye Baby” rythm) mentioning the Coco:

Duérmete mi niño, duérmete ya…

Por que viene el coco y te comerá

(Sleep my child, sleep now…Or else comes the coco to eat you)


The cucuy or el cucuy (pronounce it coo-COO-ee) is the boogeyman of Latin American cultures. He is a frightening character believed in by some children and even by some adults. He has no specific appearance, but rather is the subject of an irrational fear.

Like the bogeyman, he may hide in a closet or under the bed, or he may come out of the dark to terrorize a child. His name may be whispered to a child by parents to frighten the child into staying close by and behaving well. “Portate bien o te lleva el cucuy,” a parent may say. “Behave, or the cucuy will get you.” Social sciences professor Manuel Medrano said that according to popular legend, cucuy is a small humanoid with glowing red eyes that hides in closets or under the bed.

The cucuy is known by different names to different people in Latin America, and even among Latinos in the USA. Other names include coco, cocu, cuco, chucho and chamuco.

According to anthropology professor Tony Zavaleta:

One of my earliest recollections, being a little kid…is hearing the ladies raising kids always say “uy” (pronounced “oo-ee”), That sound would alert the child of danger; it would alert them to the dark side. There was something out there that could get you.

The Latin American legend remains a strong part of border folklore. According to Professor Medrano:

These creatures develop a permanence by word of mouth, from generation to generation, usually from the grandmother to the grandchild. It’s got an appeal not only because it is mysterious, but also because it is a good way of maintaining a child’s discipline.


Just yesterday I received this email from the Acentos Review:

Dear John,

We would be very pleased to publish in The Acentos Review, March 2009 issue the following short story:

 Farmhouse in the Lanes

Please email us as soon as possible giving us approval to publish and the assurance that the work has not been accepted for publication elsewhere.  

Please note that The Acentos Review will publish your work online at and retains the right to make your work available through its archive.  


coffee and bookstores

When I arrived in Illinois D asked me what I liked to do in my free time and I answered: I like to drink coffee and I like to go to bookstores.

Since then I have been to quite a few bookstores with D–some here in Springfield and in St. Louis and Chicago. I want to start recording or getting some pictures of those places since this a writing and reading weblog.

Here in Springfield, Prairie Archives is a very unique store. Probably the most disorganized place but the owner–whose name is John Paul, first and last name–knows the layout and knows what he has even despite the stacks and stacks of books. And across the street at Trout Lilly Cafe they have the best coffee.