I had a thought—teaching writing is like teaching breathing. It’s sort of an arcane thing, but people do earn a living in both areas (if you include yoga instructors in the mix). Recommending freewriting is like suggesting that people breathe rapidly in a shallow fashion until they get dizzy and hyperventilate. I’m more of a fan of deep breathing exercises, myself—take something in and hold it until the oxygen in the stream is exhausted. But there are an endless number of permutations for breathing, as there are for writing. A person has to find their own pace.

But the most important advice is to do it regularly. It is important both to inhale (read) and exhale (write). A person need not be taught these things once they have the basic impulse to adjust to the task. However, this doesn’t suggest that either can’t be improved with exercise.

The impulse to breathe comes naturally. The impulse to write is socially, rather than biologically conditioned. I suppose there could be something labeled a “healthy atmosphere” for breathing—people don’t normally seek out foul odors to inhale. But it’s hard to make a case for what constitutes a “healthy odor.” I know people raised around stockyards who felt that the natural atmosphere should smell like fecal matter—they missed it when it was gone. I was struck during a visit years ago to my birthplace— Ojai, California,— that I started surrounded by the smell of oranges. But in Bakersfield, where I grew up, the primary smells were oil and dirt. All these smells seem “healthy” to me.

In writing, I do think that you inspirate what you read. That’s why I can’t seem to stray too far from poetry. It just seems healthier to me. Not everyone feels that way. But if you’re teaching breathing, you can’t really tell people what to breathe—you can only recommend some sweet smells for them to try out. Politics has always had a foul stench to me; but that’s just me I guess.