Free Yourself with Free Writing

Life Lessons from 2010“It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

Amit Sodha, the fabulous and flirty guy behind the Unlimited Choice blog, recently challenged me, and a load of his other favorite bloggers, to blog our unedited thoughts.

He spontaneously discovered the power of free writing and is so excited about it that he wants us all to get naked with him – well, not in a kinky way.

Why is he so jazzed about free writing?  He says,

“I would describe the process as fearless writing. It’s writing without reservation or fear of being judged.”

Traditionally, the purpose of free writing is to help you break through any resistances, fears, or other blockages that are holding you back as a writer.  However, I found it also helped me move through emotional blockages.  And Amit realized he could “extract genius ideas from those ramblings.”

According to Wikipedia:

Free writing — also called writing free stream-of-consciousness writing — is a prewriting 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 helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism.”

My Own Experiment with Free Writing

I first learned about free from Natalie Goldberg’s book – Writing Down the Bones – many years ago. But I never really tried it out.  Amit’s enthusiasm piqued by curiosity.  So I decided to give it a go.

As background, I should let you know that I recently began journaling about old memories, somewhat freestyle.  I wasn’t strictly following the rules of free writing though.  (By the way, I don’t spend an excessive amount of time focused on the past.  But, sometimes it can help you to heal and move forward.)

This time, I decided to free write correctly.

Usually in free writing, you pen without a topic.  But it’s OK to use a topic, if you wish.  I chose the sense of frustration that has been leaping up in my mind lately.  I started out with the thought, “Why do I have this frustration?  Where is this frustration coming from?”  I wrote freely for a full 20-minutes.

The impact was incredible. The process took me deeply into the emotional pattern.  When I reviewed the piece, it revealed with lucidity the root of the congestion.  The experiment took me a step further to breaking free of this unhelpful reaction.

I followed the rules.  Although I began with a topic, I didn’t constrain myself to that focus.  I wrote whatever thoughts and emotions came into my mind without regard to grammar, punctuation, and so forth.  That was hard for me to do because I type quickly and instinctively add punctuation as I go along.

There is a point to letting go of the punctuation and grammar though.  It is far more freeing.

In addition to profound emotional insight, I found I was able to write 700 – 800 words in the space of 20-minutes.  This amazed me since it takes me far longer to write blog posts.  As you might recall, I’m always looking for ways to speed up my writing.

As free writing promises, my inhibitions melted away.  I see the power free writing holds to loosen up the mind, heart, and writing. I will definitely be adding the technique to my healing toolkit.

Mini-Mind Challenge:  Free Writing to Free Yourself

This week, instead of offering a topic for mental reflection, my suggestion is to try free writing. Try it for just 5-minutes or longer, as I did.  You can write by hand or on the computer.

You could free write to loosen up your writing without a specified topic.  Or you could free write on a challenging emotion or stumbling block in your life.  My version of the later focuses within – on oneself – rather than being merely a rant about someone’s behavior.

Here are simple free writing instructions from Wikipedia:

“The technique involves continuous writing, usually for a predetermined period of time (often five, ten, or fifteen minutes). The writer writes without regard to spelling, grammar, etc., and makes no corrections. If the writer reaches a point where they can’t think of anything to write, they write that they can’t think of anything, until they find another line of thought. The writer freely strays off topic, letting thoughts lead where they may. At times, a writer may also do a focused freewrite, letting a chosen topic structure their thoughts. Expanding from this topic, the thoughts may stray to make connections and create more abstract views on the topic. This technique helps a writer explore a particular subject before putting ideas into a more basic context.”

The main point is to keep writing for a designated period of time.   Don’t stop to review or judge the output.  You can see examples of free writing at Re: Verse Verse.

Thanks for the Free Writing Challenge, Amit

Thanks for the idea, Amit.  Free writing was a powerful experience for me all thanks to you.

Now, about that challenge to blog my unedited thoughts…  I’m not going to do that today.  For one, I don’t necessarily equate being fearless with random sharing.  But then, maybe I’m just terribly repressed!

Have you ever tried free writing?  What was your experience with free writing?  Would you post your unedited thoughts on your blog?

This article is part of a weekly series of reflective exercises to help you – and me – uproot limiting thoughts, emotions, views, and habits. See more mini-mind challenges.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much! Sandra

46 thoughts on “Free Yourself with Free Writing

  1. Hey Sandra! Great to see you taken up the challenge and here’s hoping we can start a new movement with this! LOL

    I truly didn’t realise this process already had a name but I’m think I can safely say I’m the first blogger to come up and implement this idea on a blog…(me thinks.)

    Regardless, I’m glad you had as much fun as I did and it’s definitely a technique I’m going to be using often, not only for blogging, but for writing comedy, speaking practise and all sort of other applications too!

    Here’s to the many other applications and the creative power behind it! :-)

    • Greetings Amit,

      You have a beautiful, genuine heart! I know the idea came to you spontaneously. As the saying goes, “Great minds think alike.” It’s not important to me whether you are the originator of the idea. What matters is that you had the personal moment of inspiration and wrote about it, thereby sparking others to further freedom and creativity. Thank you so much for that. As you say, “Here’s to the many other applications and the creative power behind it!”

  2. Sandra,
    You’ve really opened up a past memory… or memories for me. It was at a time of great upheaval in my life. I don’t remember how I came to find it, but there in my hands was the book “At an Intensive Journal workshop” by Ira Progoff, Ph. D. http://www.intensivejournal.org/index.php

    Check out his ‘Sample a track of The Well and the Cathedral’… very interesting.

    I began using his ‘twilight dreaming’ journaling–following through the dialogues and dream journaling and getting to understand my relationship (interdependence) with so many aspects of my life: what shaped my past, resulting in my present condition.

    My interest in this book fell by the wayside when the next book I found in my hands was The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I believe that the journaling opened up something in me that let me see my present condition and then bring me to a book to help me change those present conditions that will result in a far more different future ~:0)

    May your writing benefit all beings!
    Pat

    • Hi Pat,

      I’m so happy you left this comment and shared your insightful and skillful use of journaling. It’s so helpful to hear how this approached led you “to understand my relationship (interdependence) with so many aspects of my life: what shaped my past, resulting in my present condition.” I’m sure your positive experience will inspire others to explore this technique. I’m moved by how powerful it was for you. I will hop over and check out the article you recommend. The spiritual path is all about working with our own mind so it is necessary to look within and see who you really are. As you know, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is my most important spiritual guidebook too.

      Wishing you a wonderful New Year! With love and appreciation.

  3. Love this technique. I used to write morning pages (Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I don’t do it as much anymore but I do tend to freewrite the first drafts of my posts. Inside that exercise is usually the heart of what I want to explore. Powerful and fun. Sometimes we writer’s just need to loosen up a bit. It’s like stretching or laughing. It gets the seriousness out of the bones and the words. Thanks Sandra.

    • Katie,

      Thanks for introducing me to this book by Julia Cameron. I’m far from being an artist, but I would like to open up more to that aspect of my being. I love hearing about how you’ve used these exercises to loosen up and release the seriousness!

  4. Sandra,
    I used to do Julia Cameron’s – Morning Pages – all the time and then I stopped. After reading Amit’s article this morning realized that stopping the morning pages has dammed up the flow of not only my creativity, but my dreams. I realized I’ve been holding myself back trying to hard to fit in with the “wrong” crowd, so to speak. Time to let go and release the flow!

    I feel this is a very important theme for 2011 – freewriting, freethinking, and free flowing dreams.

  5. Angela,

    I’m so happy that Amit’s article sparked this deep realization for you. Your comment is doing the same for me. Your words truly underscore the power of these techniques to reach deeply into our heart and soul. You’ve convinced me even more of the benefit of this approach.

    I know what you mean by trying to fit in with the “wrong” crowd. Being truly you is being in the right crowd! You’ve really inspired me. I love your theme for the new year too.

  6. Pingback: Naked Thoughts

  7. Thank you for this great tip Sandra (and thanks to Amit Sodha for the original idea). This was fun. I had to test it. Fortunately I read a post about blogging “no ones” at problogger.net before I read your post Sandra, and therefore dared to test this. Since I am one of those “no ones”, who is actually someone :-)

  8. Hi Sandra! This sounds like a great experience. It sounds a bit like journaling but more freeing since it’s more spontaneous, no agenda. I can totally see the benefit of this practice and how healing it can be. I’ll try it too and see how it goes.
    Thanks for the great tip. Loving blessings!

  9. Hi Andrea,

    That’s the key Andrea ~ spontaneous and no agenda, no punctuation, no grammar…just flow! I’m sure you will have fun with this because that’s just who you are!

  10. Sandra, I see Amit got you influenced to try the idea! He is still working on me though ;)!
    Thank you for explaining more about how this is supposed to all play out. I have not tried free writing with the blog or even the drafts…..I usually feel pretty strong about what I want to say ….but it’s an interesting exercise and I must try it at some point. I will !!! I like to know what I can produce uninterrupted and unedited….hold me to it, more from me on this later. :)

    • Farnoosh,

      I loved your response to Amit! I understand why you wouldn’t publish unedited material on your blog. You have high standards, which I appreciate. You probably don’t need yourself and therefore probably don’t need free writing! In my case though, I really felt a positive benefit. Let us know if you give it a try. BTW, my husband loved your article on green juices.

      • I am so happy he enjoyed the green juice article. You know I did a follow up video of juicing in my kitchen after that too, Sandra! Did he watch that/ It was one of my first times talking on video and well, you may have a few laughs….!! That juicing post – not the video but the original one – Favorite Green Juice Recipes – is my top post, go figure, it’s been viewed about 20,000!! People like their juice! ;)

  11. Dear Sandra,
    Thanks! this technique really helped in unlocking the Pandora’s box, my hidden fears came to the fore. Addressing these, Healing these. i have my hands full.
    i cannot explain how powerfully liberating this experience has been.
    varuni

    • Varuni,

      I’m so happy to hear that this was a powerful experience for you. I wish you well in your healing process. Don’t let all the junk overwhelm you, you are beautiful.

  12. love the idea of “fearless writing”- writing without limitations restrictions rules. I will certainly be trying this out as life is all too often governed by what we think we should do or say- and so spontaneity vanishes and freedom is replaced with a sense of being weighed down by our past experiences suppressing new hopes and dreams

    • David ~ Beautifully said! “spontaneity vanishes and freedom is replaced” I hope this technique helps you to unleash more freedom. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. Be well.

  13. Pingback: Day 10- fearless writing | Listen Feel Breathe

  14. Hi Sandra,
    I also thought of Julia Cameron’s morning pages, as she called them. I’m going to try this for my next post, first draft. Katie’s writing is one of my favorites and if she does this…well I think I will too!

    • Tess,

      Three of my most favorite bloggers and people have now mentioned Julia Cameron’s morning pages. Sounds like something I might enjoy investigating. I look forward to your next post to see what emerges. Should be fun.

  15. Hi Sandra!

    This is a great idea! I first free-wrote when I was working on my PhD dissertation. Free writing was the only way that I could overcome all of my anxieties about getting something down that was “perfect”. Free writing is very freeing.

    I’m not sure whether I’d do it as a blog post. That might be a step that I’m not ready to take yet.

    • Hi, So many people get stuck with their dissertations. What a great way to use free writing. Thanks for adding this idea to the mix. I’m not so sure that sharing free writing in a post really benefits readers so much. But using the technique to produce more spontaneous and richer writing will definitely give a lift to our blog posts.

  16. Sandra, I love this. Years ago, in order to learn public speaking better, I began performing stand-up comedy. It wasn’t just an experiment, I wanted to learn how to evoke responses from people. So I took a class. And in this improv class, we were taught to keep a notepad next to our bed. (And one that we kept with us all the time.) But we were particularly instructed to write down our first just-barely-conscious thoughts as soon as we opened our eyes. Write down anything we might be thinking. Because we’re so tightly wound to our subconscious mind upon waking. This is where most of the best thoughts would come from that I could hone later.

    Thanks for the reminder. I need to free write more. :)

    • Bryan, I applaud your bravery performing stand up comedy! These are wonderful tips. I’m so glad you shared them with us. The subconscious is such a huge part of our mind and there is so much there to free up so we can live more freely. I’m with you, I want to free write more. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Be well!

  17. I have taken 3 weekend short courses in spontaneous or “free writing” and they were a blast. It was great to be in the flow at the workashops and I use frequently create posts in my private journal blog by “free writing”. I recommend it. :)

    • Hi timethief,

      Those weekend courses do sound like so much fun. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your free writing process for your private journal. I’ve just begun to do this as well. I have interesting questions popping into my mind that I want to free write about.

  18. Well done and beautiful insights.

    I had wondered if it was your filtering that may have added time to your process, and I was wondering if it was short time limits, that limited my filtering.

    On writing unfiltered, I think it’s a great way to get over any fear or humps where logic gets in the way, such as tapping into insight. I think it’s more of a pre-process, unless the stream of conscious is useful as is. Sometimes it is. Other times, it’s a sharp reminder of the power of editing ;) Either way, I think with practice, the raw becomes closer to the filtered naturally, as a part of bridging the gap between you think, say, and do. Unless of course, any heavy handed processes get in the way.

    On “Great minds think alike”, that’s true, and I also like “All paths lead to the same town.” On the Web, this becomes even more obvious.

    I think there’s a big difference between being the first to stumble upon an idea, the first to try an idea in a new context, etc. But I think the magic happens when somebody shares an idea, existing, new, or whatever, in a way that sticks.

    A friend put it to me once, “that’s the beauty of blogging, you can all write about it.” His point was no matter how many people write about a topic, they all have their unique experience to share.

    For me, I’m something of a truth seeker, and I hunt for concepts, ideas, principles, patterns, and practices. What I almost always find is that for every message, there are many messengers, each with their unique experience, and I’m glad there’s more than one channel to turn to ;)

    If you’re a fan of candor in blogging, you might enjoy Robert Scoble’s Naked Conversations book. He’s pushed the envelope in the early days on raw and unfiltered.

    • J. D. You always contribute fabulous insights and ideas when you comment. I respect and trust your rich experience and study.

      I agree, it’s not necessarily useful to readers to post free writing, although sometimes it can be. I really like your point here, “Either way, I think with practice, the raw becomes closer to the filtered naturally, as a part of bridging the gap between you think, say, and do.” I like the idea of the raw becoming closer to the filtered naturally. Since I began blogging, I feel my writing style has been evolving and coming a bit closer to this marriage.

      Thank you also for underlining how we can all write about similar topics because our vantage point will be slightly different. This is so true. Free writing is a case in point. I read about it many years ago but I didn’t flow with it until I read Amit’s post. Thanks for your thoughts!

  19. Mmm…Years ago I used to do Morning Pages (free-writing, from the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) and they helped me clear out emotions out of my system, as you say.
    Just a few days ago I thought of starting them again – since my word for 2011 is Flow, I guess they could be the right tool for me at the moment!

    • Hi Cristina, Wow, another vote for Julia Cameron! It’s great to hear how useful her approach has been for so many people. May you flow with beauty like a beautiful river in 2011.

  20. Hi Sandra,
    I’ve been using this writing technique for years. I’m glad you mentioned not to judge. This technique doesn’t work if you stop to criticize yourself. It’s a great way to get out what bothers us. I especially find it useful for anxiety. Thanks Sandra!

    • Dandy,
      Thanks so much for your tips. Its’ very encouraging to hear how well this approach has worked for you. I’m definitely going to work with it more.

  21. Hi Sandra,

    Wow, stimulating ideas here. I do pretty much free-writing when I journal with amazing results like what you described in your post. (And the way I journal is similar to JC’s morning pages.) Of course I wouldn’t post it on my blog — not so much because I’d be afraid to though, as who would care?!

    And I’m just now reading Writing Down the Bones for the first time. Love it!

    I appreciate, too, that you offered your link to your excellent article about speeding up our writing. Thanks for that! That’s where I get carried away. I can write and write and write! It’s creating something useful that takes the time. Ya know?

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Hi Patti,

      I loved Writing Down the Bones, too. I loved hearing how much you’ve enjoyed this approach and have had amazing results with it. I totally know what you mean! I could also write endlessly, but it’s the shaping that takes time. Thanks for your thoughts.

  22. Hi Sandra, if I’ve tried free writing I don’t remember it. I’ve been talking out some of my anxieties related to transitions I’m going through, and that was helpful. It might also be valuable to write down some of the things in my mind as well, so I should try this. I won’t be putting unedited stuff on my blog though! It will probably generate some topic ideas though.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Dandy has used this approach effectively with anxiety. It’s definitely going to be one that comes to my mind, when it starts churning out worries. I don’t plan on putting unedited material on my blog either. BTW, I totally loved your last post on Whole Foods and how they could improve their customer service.

  23. I love that you tried new and different!
    For a few years, I have been writing out morning pages per Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. The idea is that upon waking I write out free hand all thoughts..no labels, just stream it out. This rids the mind of the top layer of “junk” as well as provides clarity as to anything significant I may miss by editing. This practice has been amazing..there are days I stream throughout my day after each activity that I do..shower, stream..make breakfast, stream. It provides such clarity and empties so much space that is then full of gratitude. Some of my life changing moments have happened through direction in my morning pages.

    • Joy, This is so amazing! So many have referred to this book and this approach to free writing. I am so curious. I really enjoyed your description of how it works for you. Now, this has really got me thinking…and maybe streaming too! Thanks so much for your comment.

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