Writing can be an excellent way to destress and free the mind from the myriad daily concerns that cause so many of us so many problems – insomnia, depression, anxiety, even physical health problems.
That sentence sounds very much like a description of mindfulness meditation. Which made me wonder: can writing become a form of meditation in its own right? And could that meditative freedom in turn unlock creativity which has become hidden behind mundane daily concerns? Could writing even become a way of unblocking writers’ block?
The answer is yes, and it turns out that some writers have known about this for decades.
It turns out the idea of writing as a parallel form of meditation, with many of the same general benefits, and several very specific benefits for the writer, has been known about for a long time! It is called free writing. Below is an introduction (which I don’t claim is original – much of it is culled from other sources, but it was news to me, so it might be to you too!)
Free writing involves continuous writing, usually for a predetermined period of time (often five to 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.
Freewriting is often done on a daily basis as a part of the writer’s daily routine. Also, students in many writing courses are assigned to do such daily writing exercises.
The writing does not have to be done with pen and paper. A technique known as Freeblogging combines blogging with free-writing with the rules changed so that the writer does not stop typing for long periods of time. The end result may or may not be shared with the public.
The correctness and quality of what you write do not matter; the act of writing does.
Here are the essential rules that are often formulated for the beginners or students, often a paraphrase of Natalie Goldberg’s “Rules for Free Writing,” often referred as Natalie Goldberg’s first four rules of writing:
- Give yourself a time limit. Write for one or ten or twenty minutes, and then stop.
- Keep your hand moving until the time is up. Do not pause to stare into space or to read what you’ve written. Write quickly but not in a hurry.
- Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style. Nobody else needs to read what you produce here. The correctness and quality of what you write do not matter; the act of writing does.
- If you get off the topic or run out of ideas, keep writing anyway. If necessary, write nonsense or whatever comes into your head, or simply scribble: anything to keep the hand moving.
- If you feel bored or uncomfortable as you’re writing, ask yourself what’s bothering you and write about that.
- When the time is up, look over what you’ve written, and mark passages that contain ideas or phrases that might be worth keeping or elaborating on in a subsequent free-writing session.
Goldberg’s rules appear to be based on those developed by Jack Kerouac, who she cites several times. Kerouac developed 30 “rules” in his Belief & Technique for Modern Prose. While Kerouac’s “rules” are elliptical and even cryptic for beginning writers, they are more comprehensive than Goldberg’s for those who have practised prose writing for some time. Kerouac supplemented these with his Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, and together they form the basis of his prose writing method, a form of narrative stream of consciousness. Kerouac himself cites the “trance writing” of William Butler Yeats as a precursor of his own practice.
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