This is part 1 of my new series: Journal Your Way. It’s designed to encourage you to experiment with new journaling techniques to discover how you tick, so you can get the most out of every journaling session.
What is free writing?
Okay, picture this: You open up a blank page, find a pen if you’re handwriting, and set a timer on your phone for… let’s say 10 minutes. Then you tune in to your mind’s chatter, and you listen to it. And you write it down… exactly as it comes.
It’s both harder and easier than it sounds.
On one hand, all you have to do is take down every word that pops up in your brain. On the other hand, you’ll find that your thoughts don’t even finish. They’re not always real sentences. Your mind is full of nonsense, and you’ve set yourself the task of keeping up with that nonsense fast enough to write it down. It’s pretty challenging!
But it’s also a lot of fun (at least for me, who’s got a surrealist sense of humour).
What happens when you freewrite is you unleash your mind. Suddenly it’s allowed to think whatever it wants, however little that may make sense to the conscious, rational you.
Think about what that means!
You can let loose. Hidden thoughts are allowed to come out. You discover new truths. You may see brilliant ideas you never would have seen otherwise. Maybe you feel yourself opening up, high on the freedom of letting yourself go for a little while. It’s impossible to take yourself very seriously if you truly let go while free writing.
It’s a great experience to see that just as you’re thoughtful and rational, you’re also full of weird, incoherent dots.
At least they seem incoherent… but maybe you can connect them? I’ve read some great examples of people’s free writing that they later found meaning in. I can see meaning in my own free writing, too. It’s just expressed in a different way than usual.
Free writing can also be a source of great emotional relief. Sometimes we’re not ready to say things in full, thought-out sentences, but we’ll allow ourselves to write words. Or metaphors.
Free writing is really just tapping into your consciousness and seeing what comes out: emotions, ideas, thoughts, dreams, solutions to problems, truths, ambitions, the past, the present… anything can show itself through free writing.
Or maybe you just end up laughing at the insanity your mind can cook up in ten minutes.
How long do I write for?
If you’re trying free writing for the first time, or are still getting comfortable with it, maybe stick to ten minutes maximum so you don’t feel overwhelmed. But otherwise, I’d really just advise to experiment with this. Set the timer that feels right in the moment.
How to let go?
The timing part is important. It’s a reminder that you’ve only got this time to freewrite; might as well let go and give it your all.
Minimise distractions that can seep into your writing, like TV, music or anything else with spoken words. You probably can’t guarantee absolute silence, but that’s fine. Things I’ve heard and seen have frequently popped up in my free writing. I think of it as a nice little “moment capsule” to look back on.
So, with timing and distractions out of the way, your main job is just to relax. Remember that this is not a test. No one will see what you write if you don’t want them to. It’s just you trying to let yourself be absolutely free for a little moment in time.
You’re not trying to impress anyone, not even yourself. You’re trying to open up and let go.
And remember that anything goes. If your mind goes blank and all you can think is “I can’t think of anything”, you’re allowed to write that over and over again. Hopefully, something will spark and your mind will find its way again. If not, that’s fine, too. You’ve done great for practicing.
It’s okay if you don’t see any value in what you’ve written afterwards. Not every session will feel productive or enlightening. The important part is that you keep practicing letting your mind free.
Free writing example
[I wrote this in seven minutes. For the sake of authenticity I’ve not edited or divided it into paragraphs.]
I don’t know what to write right now my sinuses are all blocked and I’m feeling very sorry for myself to be honest cat in basket house whirring what is this fan computer outside window curtains they’re grey I like biscuits but I actually don’t so there’s that and British sarcastic humour The Office Burt Reynolds chucklehead I don’t think my head is working properly it’s all full of cotton and I don’t know what to say, I’m a little down, not sure why but I need to fix my sleeping pattern again and soon mum will come over with some nice kleenex I’m looking forward to that hope tomorrow is a better day I’m feeling very isolated at the moment and I don’t know what to do tablecloth white cream crochet circle flower pattern holes cat on table I hate when she’s on the table but she doesn’t get it why are cats so weird why do they run around after they poop it must be weird using a box to go to the toilet I think I’d feel weird if I had to do then but then again I sort of do it’s just a bigger box with a door and I had to take away cat door because her tail could get caught in it and that would be way worse than potentially being peeked at while peeing so I dunno cats are weird I want something but I don’t know what I feel bad and good at the same time, happy, hopeful, excited but also extremely fatigued and bummed that I woke up so late and that I’m so out of whack right now and I just want to get back to the grey, dark mornings with coffee steaming out of the cup and so many hours to work while the world is still waking up
What do I do with my writing?
You don’t have to do anything with your writing if you don’t want to. It depends on whether you find something of value in it or not.
I read over my writing right after I’m done, to see if there’s anything that resonates. If it’s all jumbled nonsense, I just laugh and move on.
If there is anything that resonates, something stirs me in some way, I might take that and expand on it in a conventional journal entry. Or I may write it down as a little snippet to decide what to do with it later.
I’d encourage you not to throw it away, though. Though you may not see value in it now, there’s no guarantee you won’t down the line.
Free writing is writing exactly what comes to mind, without stopping, for a set amount of time. (10 minutes is a good start.)
It’s good for:
- Getting in touch with your emotions
- Letting go of inhibitions
- Sparking creative ideas
- Emotional relief
- Understanding yourself
To start free writing, all you need is to switch off any distractions, set a timer and write until the timer dings. Then you can read over it and look for anything interesting.
Keep your writing, and keep practicing.