Free Writing

A technique which appears to come up rather often. Variously termed free writing, timed exercises, stream of consciousness writing and so on.

Some people practice this as a distinct form of writing, which I had not considered as an option for example:

https://ashortconversation.com/about/

Both writing and counselling use this technique. (It is likely it is used elsewhere as it is so useful).

When used as part of counselling automatic writing is about whatever comes to mind. The idea being that this may access thoughts which are otherwise hidden.

It may also be used as part of a mindfulness practice.  Writing tends to slow the thoughts and enable a person to observe their own thinking. This practice may make it easier to manage that thinking going forwards.

Expressive writing involves an allotment of time (say 20 minutes). In this time a person writes down their thoughts about a challenging aspect of their life. The writing should fully explore how they have been affected by it. The idea being that it helps the person to deal with the situation.

Evidence suggests it is effective for example in conditions like anxiety.

It is also used for assisting clients to deal with difficult situations from their past.

From the perspective of the author this is a time set aside for writing practice without preconceptions or plan. It is designed to assist in bringing out ideas. It can be used to try to help a writer become unstuck.

The very act of getting words on paper can bring out solutions to problems that you have been wrestling with.

There may be as many ways of attempting this as there articles about it.

I have this approach from one of the writing courses that I attended. It is as effective as any other method:

Decide in advance how long you would like to give the exercise and set a timer (smartphones do this very well).

Ten minutes, twenty minutes up to an hour are usual amounts of time. This is dependent upon how long you believe you can sustain the activity. (It might be easier to start with shorter amounts of time and build up as you get familiar with the process).

Once you have allocated the time, you have to write for the whole time. The main rule is that you do not stop, get up or in any other way interrupt the practice once you have started.

Observe certain rules to get the most out of the exercise.

  1. There is no pausing once you begin. No reading what is already written. No stalling or gazing out of the window.
  2. There is no editing during the process. No crossing out, punctuating, substituting words or similar.
  3. Even if something is obviously wrong do not remove it. This includes things you did not expect/intend to write, poor spelling, punctuation or grammar. The writing can be as scrappy as you like including failing to respect ruled lines or margins.
  4. Pretend you have no control over what you are writing – this may help you be more creative.
  5. There should be no time for thinking – disengage brain and write.
  6. If the writing turns out to be scary too self-exposing (or in any other way taking risks you’re unhappy with) go with it anyway. The idea is to use this energy.

The aim is to get to your truest writing self. This is where you no longer censor yourself but write what you are truly feeling and thinking.

Here are some of the exercises I completed on my course. I never worked out the characters any further than this so I doubt they will appear anywhere else:

Exercise

And I have found that the majority of people that I meet have skills which I have no experience of. I have no idea how they learned or why I didn’t.

I do not see that things that a person wears. I do not remember the look in their eyes, detect the tone in their voice. I do not remember that yesterday their hair was grey and today it is boot black.

The truth is that I do not detect the importance of these things. I am not clear that the investment of effort and of time yields the results that others, gleaming eyes, inform me of.

I believe that it causes a great darkness of gossip and inward looking. I am not clear that the knitting psychological effects do not offset this. I cannot be clear unless I develop the skill.

But this part of the brain is missing. I think now only of events of changes and of developments. Identifying things, items and moments has always been far easier more diverting. I have to relate that I find it impossible now to invest any energy in the skills that I do not have.

I am a parody of a person. Now an actor in which the outer shell is a charming soul who listens, perceives, comments and applauds. Internally I am mechanical. A whirring set of gears designated to achieve only the outcomes which I have selected important. A manipulator content for others to smile whilst I manoeuvre into a position that takes me where I wish to go.

And yet oiled and tuned as the machine has become I remain thwarted unsuccessful limited. I reflect upon those skills and wonder if the outer signs are not subtly detected. The dark inner facets of my soul displayed to those I seek to charm.

Exercise 2

Awareness, working and silence. Dark with the dull red gleam of the alarm clock humming oldly beside the bed. Then again a twitch and the bed shudders like the dying spasms of a large fat animal.

Damn 2:15am again. Pain across the eyes. The struggle upright and look at the ground. Vacant greyness as the cogs start to whirr. Carpet focusing and defocusing until finally he accepts – awake again.

Shuffling silent descending and mumbling through the early rituals 2 ½ hours early

No steadiness, no rest, no silence. At last angry at accumulated sleeplessness. He sits TV sound off and allows a vacancy to permeate his brain. Waiting for the drum drum announcement of heating water which informs him at last that day can officially begin. The routine scramble for leaving can finally take over.

The greyness now seems inside as well as out. Each action harder, each thought more tenuous. Minor accidents now creating great depths of anger disproportionate to their effect.

The heavy needles of warm water serve only to remind of sleep opportunity lost and long day to come.

Regret no less than annoyance – why no sleep again.

The journey is too difficult too trying. Each vehicle a personal slight on him. Too slow; too fast; too hesitant. An excuse for overheated annoyance to swelling bombasity.

Watch that. Quell it. Have control. Slip quietly back. Slow. Watch yourself. Quietly does it

The heavy mist lays down around the park. Silent trudging marks the finals stages of the journey. Miserable damp sticky. A wait for the self-important guard to release the security door. At last he reaches the place of all his concerns. Wheezing the final steps till he makes an arrival.

Exercise 3

Your careers teacher tells appalling lies. “There is nothing that you cannot do”; “Aim High”; “The World is your oyster”.

Pretty soon you determine that you can’t depend on your careers teacher unless you already know what to do.

You turn up and stare blankly at one another. Until, in desperation, you come up with a random idea. Which he/she sets to with relish as if it were part of some life plan for you.

Of course you may follow this through in the absence of any better idea. But beware if you hadn’t an idea beforehand. Following someone else’s idea is even worse.

Your parents will become amateur careers advisors the moment that they recognise the fix that you are in.

Be wary.

This is lies too.

Formed from good intentions no doubt. But of absolutely no use to you. “You need a trade” “it doesn’t matter what you do just do it well” “we’re proud of you whatever”.

This is not helpful.

Lastly do not pay attention to any of your friends. “Working in this job is easy”. “Why don’t you try what I do I hardly ever put in a full day’s work”. “I started in April and already they’ve given me a pay rise”.

Utter tosh.

You will find the truth yourself. Many aspects of that truth will cause you to resent those lies. It will cause you to doubt advice from that point onwards.

You are correct to question that advice. Indeed any advice. For what other person has any idea of how you think, believe, react.

http://skepdic.com/autowrite.html

https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/expressive_writing

https://www.mindful.org/a-writing-practice-for-those-who-like-to-keep-doing/

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/writing-as-therapy-a-silence-that-speaks-louder-than-words

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-power-of-writing-3-types-of-therapeutic-writing/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201308/writing-therapy

Author: Phil Maud

Keen on privacy and IT Security. A volunteer counsellor. I use blogging to improve my writing.

5 thoughts on “Free Writing”

  1. I’ve never had any idea what it is I would like to do. At least, anything achievable and within my skill set. Give a careers advisor an idea to run with and they will either, as you say, enthusiastically construct a career for you or destroy your hopes and tear your dreams to shreds before your very eyes.

    When I was about six an old lady asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I didn’t know. “So would you like to be a fireman?” she suggested .
    “Oh yes,” I said, “That would be great.” (if a bit hot and dangerous).
    ” Or an astronaut? ”
    “Oh yes, if I was an astronaut that would be great.” (Thinking it’s a bit dark and lonely up there.)

    I felt a bit like Father Dougal McGuire from Father Ted when Ted asks him what he would wish for if he had three wishes.
    “Oh, nothing, Ted. I’m happy as I am.”
    ” So you wouldn’t like to be a big star like Elvis or something? ”
    “Oh, that would be great if I was Elvis.”
    ” So what else would you wish for? ”
    “Oh, nothing, Ted. If I was Elvis that would be enough for me.”
    ” So you wouldn’t want a big car or something then? ”
    “Oh, that would be great, Ted, if I was Elvis and I had a big car that would be fantastic.”
    ” So what would your third wish be? ”
    “Oh, nothing, Ted. If I was Elvis and I had a big car that would be enough for me.”
    ” So, you wouldn’t like this cup then? ”
    “Oh, that would be great, Ted. If I was Elvis and I had a big car and that cup that would be fantastic.”
    ” Dougal, you’ve never had much imagination, have you? ”
    “No Ted.”

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    1. I was once asked what I would like and I said a farmer.
      I reasoned that a life outside with animals would be great.
      I think I was 3 or 4.
      For a very long time I thought I had my life worked out.
      I think I was in my teens when someone explained how much farms cost.
      Later I found out how much people who work on farms earn.
      So I couldn’t afford a farm and I couldn’t afford to work on a farm.
      Can’t say I have ever had another idea as appealing since then.
      I think someone once said Life is what happens whilst you are making other plans (something like that).

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      1. You might have been happy though – happy but poor. But at least you might have looked forward to going to work in the mornings.

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