“Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage is a stunning, lyrical tour de force that evokes Virginia Woolf’s best novels, fluidly tracing—in form and content—the complex, labyrinthine, back-and-forth between a married couple, both of whom are writers.
It is a glorious work of art.” Robin Lippincott, author of Blue Territory: a meditation on the life and art of Joan Mitchell
Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Chella Courington, author of Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, about freewriting, and Chella has also kindly allowed me to reproduce an extract from the book. Let me hand over to Chella now.
A Freewrite on Freewriting by Chella Courington
Writing can be fun. Writing can be treacherous. A writing teacher for almost thirty years, I’ve seen writing from all sides. From the frightened student wary of putting pencil to paper to the student who wants to drop the class before sinking into an abyss of words. Much of this pain and fear comes from school years of being told what’s the correct way and what’s the incorrect. Take it from me, someone who’s not only taught writing and facilitated workshops but relied on writing to help me navigate through rough waters like the breakup of my first marriage, the death of my mom, and these trying times of Covid—there is no right or wrong way to write. Just write.
The best approach is to take pen to whatever paper’s available, an envelope or napkin, or forget the pen and use your iPhone. Now, talk about whatever’s on your mind. The squabble with a friend or your sister’s forgetting your birthday, maybe the white moth orchid you saw in Gelsen’s window on your way to work. Whatever the situation, write about it. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation or word choice, all those rules that kept writing at arm’s length, that made writing impossible because barbed with all the grammatical points. Forget the past warnings and write for five minutes, longer if you feel like it. Let your thoughts go wherever they want, twisting and turning. There’s no correct destination, just the meandering of you.
If this approach sounds too easy and uncontrolled, it is. That’s what personal writing gives us—the freeing of what we think and feel, the no-edited approach to what stirs within. In the 1970’s Peter Elbow (Writing Without Teachers, Oxford UP, 1973) popularized what he called freewriting—writing without teachers, no editing during the process, no stopping to check for right or wrong. Just following the words.
We’re always looking for ways to comprehend and cope with issues in our life as well as ways to unearth buried feelings and thoughts—not for any reason other than our own wellbeing. Our own sense of trying to understand where we are at any given moment. That very activity that little girls with pastel pink and blue diaries hid under key because Jane Austen hid under a desk pad. But in the twenty-first century writing is available to all human beings who’ve had the advantage of learning letters. They’re ours to use as we please for the celebrating and healing of us, to uncover and take care of our innermost selves hidden in hope and becoming.
Six Tips for Freewriting
- Write for five minutes without stopping.
- Follow your words wherever they go.
- If using a word processing program, turn off autocorrect and spell check.
- If you can’t think of anything to say, keep repeating “I can’t think of anything to say” until a breakthrough.
- Don’t worry about what you write or how. Just write.
- When the five minutes are over, you can read what you’ve written or leave it for later.
Your freewrites may lead to something (like this piece) or may lead nowhere. But every day you write is a better day. Every day you write makes you a better writer.
Thank you for sharing that, Chella. As an amateur writer myself, I found that very interesting. Now, here is an extract from Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage
Tom sat at the round kitchen table reading Blood Meridian for the third time. Adele placed slices of orange in front of him.
“Have you finished Mrs. Dalloway?” she asked.
There was a pause, always a felt presence between her questions and his responses, longer now that he wasn’t teaching. Finally, he looked up, the novel still open.
“Almost.” And looked down again, turning the page.
How could he say so little, almost, and that was it, that was all. He had lived with her fifteen years, he knew she adored Woolf, especially Clarissa, and all he could say was almost, one word as if it were enough.
Wanting to scream, Adele stood nearly twenty seconds, her hands squeezing the rail of the chair before she sat across from him. He mumbled or she thought he mumbled and his carriage hardened because he sensed what was coming
“What do you think?” she asked.
He breathed in this deliberate manner that bordered on a groan.
“It’s a bit slow. The writing is lovely but Woolf doesn’t pull me in,” he said, his finger holding his place in McCarthy.
Lovely. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to talk about how the novel slips from the present to the past and back again, how everyone has a point of view even the girl selling petticoats, how the miracle of existence culminates in Clarissa at the top of the stairs.
He could see her lips tightening, her presence receding. Closing his novel, he said,
“Sorry. That was a bit glib. The language is pure as one image unfolds into another. But she reads like a performance, a spectacle.” He pushed his chair back so he could cross his legs.
“Spectacle?” she asked. “What the hell do you mean? You read about massacre and bloodshed and then call Woolf spectacle because Woolf’s not killing for her audience’s attention.”
“Woolf killed Septimus,” he said.
He knew enough not to smile. Adele walked to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water; maybe she’d throw it at him or shatter the glass and stab him. On the walnut coffee table they bought at a garage sale in Ventura was the most recent Harper’s, which reports that a team of forensic engineers at The University of Leicester measured the amount of force used in bottle stabbings and called it effectively phenomenal. She twisted the cap off the bottle and sat down across from Tom.
“God. I want to hit you,” she said.
Closing the novel again, he looked up at her and scratched his cheek, waiting.
“Ever hit a woman?” she asked.
“Does my sister count?”
She drank some water. The fridge started up and she turned and watched it before looking back at him. Why does he always have to be a smartass? He’s so good at so much. But his silence hurts, leaves me feeling stranded. (Long before they met, her then boyfriend and she started drinking Bloody Marys at Myrtle Beach in the early afternoon. She woke with a splitting headache, nose swollen and raccoon eyes. X-rays showed no skull fracture. Adele told everyone she fell on the pier. The boyfriend bought her roses.)
Tom pushed the novel away, still staring at her.
“I’ve never slapped a woman,” he said, “though sometimes I’ve wanted to. But I feel guilty enough.”
If that has made you want to read Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage for yourself, you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Chella Courington (she/they) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, New World Writing, and X-R-A-Y Magazine. With three chapbooks of flash fiction, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), much of which was written as freewrites.
Inspired by Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge (1959), it tells of a writing couple in Santa Barbara, California, struggling to keep their relationship together. While their love for each other is apparent, so are their difficulties.
Told from both points of view, the novella examines the increasing distance between two artists attempting to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is the other’s failure. But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and ageing. A woman born and raised in the Appalachian South yet living in California, she explores who she is through the past and the present.
Connect with Chella:
Facebook: Chella Courington Author