by Linda-Ann Stewart
Many years ago, I took some creative writing classes in which I was taught a valuable technique called “freewriting.” I used it frequently to help me break through writing blocks. Solutions came through me that I would never have conceived of consciously. Some time later, a friend was describing a process she’d learned in a journaling seminar.
I recognized the instructions and said “Oh, that’s freewriting.”
“No, it’s not.” she snapped at me. “It’s called journaling.”
Gingerly, I asked her for more information on the process and realized that the technique might be used for a different purpose, but it was the same method I’d learned in my writing class.
Ira Progoff calls it “journaling,” Dorothea Brande, writer and writing teacher from 70 years ago calls it “writing exercise,” Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” calls it “morning pages,” writing teacher Natalie Goldberg calls it “writing practice,” someone else called it “rapidwriting,” my high school english class called it “stream of consciousness,” and I learned it under the term “freewriting.” I’m sure there are many other labels for this method, but they all describe the same process.
What Journaling Does
The idea is to start writing, without thinking about what you’re writing, or thinking about how to say it. In this way, you bypass the mental editor that tells you “You can’t say that, it’s not nice,” “Don’t say it that way,” or “You forgot to dot the ‘i.'” When you do this, it allows you to mine the true thoughts and feelings of the subconscious mind.
In my writing class, there was a family man who was looking forward to attending his family reunion. He was someone the entire family looked up to and depended upon for guidance. One week, we had an assignment to do a freewriting. He did the assignment early in the morning, shortly before the reunion. During class, we each read our freewriting aloud.
When it was his turn, it was the first time he’d read his freewriting since he’d written it. One of the passages he read was that he was “bracing” himself for his reunion, with all of the demands his family would place on him and the difficulty of trying to keep the peace between family members. After he read his piece, he said in a bewildered tone, “I didn’t know I felt that way.”
Creatively, the technique works because you’re able to follow the normal meanderings of your creative processes without interference. The method acts in much the same way during journaling, by keeping the internal critic out of your processing. In all cases, it builds a trust in yourself, your mind and your feelings.
Benefits to Journaling
There are tangible reasons to practice this technique. Research indicates that those who write down their feelings about the challenges or traumas of their lives are actually healthier, with stronger immune systems, than those who don’t write. Studies are also showing that writing can alleviate symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as lowering blood pressure, improving depression, anxiety and self-esteem. Writing about your challenges helps the mind to release the pent-up emotion and integrate the situation in a new, healthier way.
How to Practice the Exercise
Begin writing, don’t pause at all. Keep the pen or pencil moving at all times. Write whatever comes into your mind, even if it’s “I don’t want to be doing this. I’d rather be washing the dishes.” These conscious thoughts are normal, what I call the “detritus” or debris of the mind. They’re surface thoughts, from the conscious mind or censor trying to gain control and get you to stop. If you write through these objections, you’ll get beyond them to what your subconscious wants to say.
Don’t cross out words, don’t try to punctuate, spell correctly or capitalize if it’s a bother. Just keep the pen moving, writing anything at all, even if it’s garbage. If another thought comes to you before you finish a sentence, leave that sentence and begin writing on the new thought. Follow where your mind takes you. It has its own logic and reasoning that doesn’t agree with the analytical mind. Don’t try to think about what you’re writing or worry if it makes sense or not. Trust your mind.
Set a time limit of writing for at least twenty minutes a day, or write at least two pages a day (Julia Cameron suggests three pages). This lets the mind know what is required of it, and how long it has to get its ideas through to you.
You can begin your writing with something that’s made you angry, sad or scared. Or you can start with the phrase “I feel….” and go from there. Write about experiences that have affected you deeply, whether positively or negatively. If you feel blocked in some area, write about why you feel that way and what might be causing it.
It’s recommended that you practice the exercise for several days in a row to get the mind to flow. Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron suggest that the best time is in the morning, before the day’s responsibilities pounce on you. But if you can’t do it in the morning, anytime is good, as long as you do it.
As a technique for self-discovery and personal growth, this is one of the best. You learn to trust yourself and listen to the wisdom of your own mind. For you have all your answers within yourself. All you have to do is take the time and listen.
I now take the time for myself each day and journal. Although the feelings that come up may be uncomfortable, I know that they’ve been a part of me and need expressing. I let myself write what I want to, without interference from my censor. In this way, my subconscious mind can re-assess the challenges of my life, releasing what no longer serves my Highest Good. When I write, I follow where my mind wants to go and trust its wisdom.