Automatic Writing

Automatic writing of the medium Leonora Piper, alleged to be from the spirit Richard Hodgson. Public domain.

Writing comes with many layers of both mindfulness and mindlessness. It is very easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism, of failing to meet expectations, of self-consciousness when writing. The notions of ‘That’s not good enough,’ or ‘I am a fraud,’ pop up in every writer’s mind, no matter what level of experience or success they have achieved. There is also the question of the craft of fiction itself pointing away from awareness and whole-hearted experience in reality. But that’s a question for another day.

Every once in a while, more often if you are lucky or especially skilled, you get to experience ‘flow’ in writing, when the words come naturally, bypassing the self-censor. But this is rare for most of us.

There is a way to jumpstart flow in writing. This is automatic writing, an exercise I use with writing students who are ‘blocked,’ usually for the reasons stated above. Originated by the beatniks, automatic writing is designed to overcome critical thoughts that revolve around the writing process.

To do this mindful writing exercise, get out a pen and paper, set a timer for five minutes, then begin writing. The trick is not to lift the tip of the pen from the page for the entire five minutes; to be constantly writing without pause, to write ‘automatically.’ Write whatever comes to mind with no consideration of its value. Stop after the five minutes are up.

With my students I ask that they underline five words or phrases that surprised them, or they were attracted to, and assemble them into a more coherent, thought-out, narrative-based piece. But this needn’t be part of the process. Just write to let the words out, to access that mysterious, unseen part of the mind so hidden from conscious thought.

Other tips:

Have a ‘safe word’ that you can write over and over should no other words flow.

You might begin with a general theme in mind that will guide the work. Like ‘mornings,’ or ‘faith.’

Don’t worry about penmanship. The value is in activating the writing flow, not in the result.

For more mindfulness exercises, check here.

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