Have you ever heard of something called “free writing”? It’s a process that some people use to work through decisions, to gain clarity, or to clear out the mental clutter from time to time. The process itself isn’t hard to do, but it can be difficult for some to get started. If you can get into the practice of doing it regularly, it can benefit you in a lot of ways. So, what is free writing, what’s the best way to do it, and what are the benefits?
First things first, what is “free writing”?
Free writing is basically writing whatever pops into your mind, without concern for proper grammar or spelling. What you’re writing doesn’t have to fit together, follow a timeline, or even make any sense. It is the practice of allowing your thoughts to flow out through the pen, without censoring them or trying to control them.
It can be used as a form of meditation, of processing your thoughts, and/or of listening to your intuition. It’s a way to break through the monkey mind chatter so you can hear that quiet voice in your head that is trying to lead you to your happier, more authentic self.
Free writing sounds really simple, but it can be difficult for some people to do without practice.
Most of us aren’t used to allowing our thoughts to freely flow without judgement. We filter everything we think through self judgement, doubt, and the fear of what others may say or think about us.
On top of this, we have automatic thoughts each day, that are recycled from the days before. Our brains try to save time by “reusing” these thoughts from day to day, and not having to process new ideas. For example, if we try something once and dislike it, we are likely to continue to have bad feelings about it on and on, without ever trying it again to see if our tastes have changed.
These automatic thoughts can come in handy, by keeping us from having to try certain foods over and over again for example, but they can also really get in the way of our growth and forward movement. When we go through something that causes us to feel like we aren’t good enough, or like there is something wrong with us, these automatic thoughts will keep playing in our heads if left unchecked. We’ll continue to think that we aren’t good enough, or that there is something wrong with us, even if we have a thousand reasons to believe otherwise.
Free writing gives us a chance to get past these judgements, to get past these automatic thoughts, and to get to the heart of what we’re really thinking and feeling about something. It allows us to challenge these judgements and automatic thoughts, and begin to change them for our benefit.
Think about it like this…
Have you ever been in a situation where there are people in a room talking but one or two people are dominating the majority of the conversation?
Our brains work a lot like that conversation most of the time because we let it go on its own. The repetitive thoughts, our own fears, insecurities, doubts, other people’s opinions and expectations of us, and our own unrealistic expectations of ourselves, are the loud ones who are talking over everyone and taking over the conversation. The one who is sitting back, waiting for its turn to talk, or talking quietly and not being heard, is our still small voice, our intuition, our higher self. It’s not until we go in, bang the gavel, and take charge of the situation – i.e., taking charge of our thinking by telling the loud ones to pipe down – that we even hear that voice talking.
This is what things like meditation and free writing do, they give us a chance to block out those pushy, loud thoughts in order to hear the quieter ones that are trying to guide us to our happier life.
I did free writing for years before I actually saw this term used.
Writing has always been a coping mechanism for me; a way to process my thoughts. I’m able to figure out my feelings surrounding situations much more easily if I write them out, rather than if I’m trying to talk them through. If something is bothering me, but I’m not sure why, writing in this continuous string of thought, without judgement or trying to censor or correct myself, will generally help me to figure out what is going on inside. Or it will at least point me in the right direction.
I actually enjoy writing, but you don’t have to enjoy writing to get benefit from this. In fact, the less you think about the actual process of writing, the better it will be.
I use this process a lot when I’m anxious about an event coming up, or even when I’m trying to problem solve.
Most of my posts start out with me free writing, either surrounding a certain subject, or just to see what comes up in general. It normally doesn’t make much sense the first time I write it, but I like to get the thoughts out of my head before I forget them. After I have, I go back and reorganize, refine, and add in any supporting examples that are needed.
Here is the exact process that I use every time I sit down to write:
Grab some paper and a pen (or a pencil, a marker, a crayon – whatever writing utensil you want to use), and sit somewhere that you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. Turn your phone down if you can.
Six or seven minutes is the minimum time that I would suggest doing this practice because it takes about four or five minutes to get through those automatic thoughts. Once you do, that quiet voice that isn’t so pushy can start to speak and guide you.
The easiest thing to do, until you get the hang of it, if you only have a certain amount of time, or if you’re reluctant to sit there for very long, is to set a timer. That way you aren’t constantly interrupting the flow of ideas to check the time.
Now….start that timer and start writing.
It’s as easy as that.
After you’ve done free writing a few times, you’ll start to get into the swing of it. You’ll learn more about how long it takes you personally to get into the flow of things.
I can sometimes spend an hour or more writing things out, if I’m really stuck on something, anxious, or have had a lot of change happen at one time. There are other times when six or seven minutes is enough.
If you sit down, start your timer, and get stuck, don’t worry, it happens. Try one of these exercises to help you get started:
1) Start writing out everything that happened today (or yesterday if you’re doing this in the morning).
2) Write out your to-do list for the day, or even a to-don’t list, and how you feel about doing each item on the list. What might you be worried about getting done?
3) Make a list of five things that you’re thankful for, in your current circumstances.
4) Think about something that may be worrying you and start writing out all of the solutions that you can think of.
5) Make a list of animals, food, or something else completely random.
6) Look around you and write about something that is in the room with you, like a clock, a picture, or even a chair. Write out the details of what it looks like, what color it is, how comfortable it is, where it came from, etc.
Some of these may sound silly, but they will help you to at least get started. While you’re doing them, as soon as your mind starts to wander, let it. Follow it. Write down everything it says like you’re a court stenographer. Even if it’s “cake yum bing bong monkey dance woohoo”, just keep writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, especially in the moment. Just write whatever pops in your head.
This isn’t something that anyone is going to read (unless you want them to). It isn’t something that you’re going to be graded on, and you’re not trying to win a contest. Grammar doesn’t matter. Spelling doesn’t matter. You won’t lose points for writing messy. Just write.
The less you think about the actual process, the better the process will work.
Free writing helps because it gets the ego mind out of the way just long enough for us to be more intuitively guided.
Because we continue to write whatever pops up without stopping, we don’t allow our minds to attach to any one thought. We don’t give it the opportunity to go down a rabbit hole or go off on a tangent or run along the same path it always does. This non-attachment gives us the opportunity to see things that we normally wouldn’t, and is one of the main benefits of doing the practice.
Free writing helps me when I’m trying to problem solve or I can’t seem to wrap my mind around something. It helps when I have a thought that is right on the tip of my brain, but that gets stuck. It helps me to focus when I’m feeling scattered, and to move forward when I’m feeling stuck. It helps me when I’m overwhelmed and trying to process things that are happening, or have happened. It’s especially good when I have a lot of emotions swirling around and I can’t seem to figure out what or why they are there.
It can help to process those things that are going on around you, that just don’t make sense, or that are difficult. If nothing else, it gets those thoughts our of your head so they aren’t swirling around causing problems.
It can also help you to learn more about yourself, and start to see things that you enjoy (or aren’t fond of), that you may not see otherwise because you’re trying to hide those thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes I read back over my thoughts and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I keep them to refer back to, and sometimes, if I’m trying to get thoughts out of my head and process emotions, I will shred what I’ve written or burn it. It all depends on what my goal is.
That’s the beauty of this process…there isn’t really a right way or a wrong way to do it.
We don’t have to worry about being perfect, or writing the exact right thing. We don’t have to worry about someone else reading it and judging us, or misunderstanding. Really, we don’t even need to critique or judge ourselves because the only way we can mess it up, is to not do it at all.