In my first English class at university, my professor told us to get out a pen a paper and start writing whatever came into our minds. She told us not to worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling or even what we wrote about. Just write. If you couldn’t think of anything, she said, just start writing “the the the” until we could find more words to write. This was my first introduction to free writing.
Free writing has been described as the act of having a conversation with your unconscious. In fact, I’m free writing right now as I produce this blog post because it’s the best way to come up with ideas. To be honest, I can’t always think of good things to write about, they just have to bubble up to the surface through my subconscious and make themselves known.
In the years since that English class I have continued the practice of free writing and it’s bought tremendous clarity to my mind and life.
Have you ever sat down with a good friend and unloaded all your thoughts, worries, and fears while they just listened? When you were finished you probably said something like “wow, I feel so much better now. You’re a great help!”. The other person may have laughed and said “I didn’t do a thing!”.
That’s what free writing is like. It’s like having a nonjudgmental friend who will just listen. Most of the time I don’t need advice, I just haven’t untangled my thoughts and I need to either speak out loud or write it down. Only then do I realize how silly I was being for holding it all inside.
An article in Psychology Today listed a total of 8 ways that regular writing will improve your life. Writing can:
- Make you happier
- Make you a better thinker and communicator
- Help you handle hard times better
- Keep you sharp with age
- Increase gratitude
- Free up mental space
- Increase learning
- Make you a better leader
That all sounds like it’s a great form of therapy, doesn’t it?
How Much Should I Write?
I have found that I can knock out 500 words pretty easily. Anything more than 500 words and my brain begins to sweat a little bit, which is a good thing! I begin to run out of things to say and that’s where the good stuff is. As a creative person, I take what I observe from the world around me and synthesize it with my experience to turn it into something unique. This synthesis only comes from sweating it out on the page, digging deep to discover what I really think about an issue and then unearthing something that truly came from me. It’s like strengthening a muscle.
What Should I Write About?
I don’t think we realize what we are carrying around with us every day. There are thoughts and feelings that are nagging us, dragging us down. Have you ever had someone who knows you really well ask if you are OK? I tend to be a moody person so this happens to me all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong until I start talking and processing what I’m thinking. Writing down your thoughts, in my opinion, is similar to cognitive talk therapy.
My advice? Just start writing about whatever is at the top of your mind. It may sound dumb and silly and it probably is. The key to breakthrough is to simply keep writing. Don’t stop. It can get tough so stop and take a break if needed. Just get those words on the page. It’s only as you begin to write your way through your thoughts that you discover what your thoughts are.