Regular free-writing (see blog on ‘Silencing the Inner Critic’) seems to go against all the rules of ‘proper, grown-up’ writing, and requires practice! To write unedited can sometimes feel like we are spouting a stream of rubbish, wasting our time, not focusing on what’s important. But through tricking the conscious, critical mind into allowing our unconscious thoughts and processes to reach the page, we can surprise ourselves with where our pen seems to take us, and set off on a new path of discovery, with a voice we hadn’t known existed.
Whether you are a creative writer who has come to a stand-still on a project with no obvious way forward, or someone grappling with the practice of expressive free-writing for self-reflection and personal development, here are five pointers you can keep to hand if the pen really will not move on the page during your free-writing exercises:
1. Give yourself a couple of Writing Prompts. Keep them to hand – say in the front of your writing journal, then if your writing grinds to a halt, you can use one, and see where it takes you. Examples might be: ‘I remember….’, ‘what this story really means…..’, or ‘what i really want to say is…’.
2. Try to write slightly faster than you normally would. You are trying to outwit your conscious mind into searching for what might be the ‘right’ thing to write, and see what might emerge unconsciously. Don’t worry about how it looks – an untidy scrawl, lack of punctuation or incomplete sentences are all acceptable here.
3. Another trick is to find a prompt in the writing itself. If you’ve really dried up, read through what you’ve so far written. Have you asked any questions? Are thoughts or memories triggered by what you’ve read? Here’s your cue for setting off again and seeing where it leads. This can also take you deeper into what you might have initially touched on.
4. Take yourself to a different location to write. You might go outside, where your senses will pick up a whole new set of stimuli – sounds, smells, the feel of the sun on your skin, that may trigger who- knows-what for you! Sometimes I like to go and sit in my camper-van. You might go to your shed, allotment or a shady spot in the forest. Just make sure that you won’t be disturbed while you write.
Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed; capturing in black and white some of the thoughts that float to the surface before sleep, or on waking up can be illuminating and stimulating – as can our dreams.
5. If you find yourself unable to start, grab a book, open it at random and copy the start of a sentence. This is your beginning. Or try writing all the letters of the alphabet down, and writing words that begin with each letter in turn, trying to string a sentence together. Once you have something that triggers further thought, you’re off! If not the alphabet, then try using the letters from your name.
It’s best to use pen on paper rather than to type. It can be distracting having other temptations just a key-stroke away and we will be checking our emails before we realise that we’ve even stopped writing. The crucial thing is to give our writing mind permission to go wherever it likes. Hence – we are learning to follow, rather than to take the lead. Once our words can flow freely, even if it doesn’t make sense on the surface, we allow all kinds of surprising new connections and insights to reveal themselves to us on the page.