Some time ago I read about a group of seven ex-patriate British women, living temporarily in the Far East. They were all facing new challenges, meeting new people and having new adventures. They had something else in common …. they were all experiencing a sense of loss for what they had left behind. For some it was friends and family, for some it was the familiarity of places that were as comfortable to slip into as the folds of an old overcoat. They were all feeling vulnerable.
They wanted something more than the superficial expatriate relationships. They decided to form a writers’ circle. It began casually after they heard a talk by a writer on the benefits of speedwriting, or what is known to writers as “stream of consciousness”. The speaker explained how this kind of writing can be used to free inspiration and find out who you really are. Sometimes, while writing on one topic, another will come into your mind as if by accident. Natalie Goldberg, in her book “Writing Down the Bones” explains it as: “Shake the apple tree and you get oranges.”
You don’t need to be a professional writer, or even have ambitions in that direction, to benefit from this kind of writing. You just sit down with a pen and some blank pages and start writing about whatever comes into your mind. Let it flow without worrying about grammar, spelling or syntax. When you write in this uninhibited way, your internal critic and censor doesn’t get a look in. You can write on a particular topic (the women I mentioned chose “home”) or you can make up a heading like “Morning Pages” and see what happens. Random thoughts will flow on to the paper and some of them may surprise you. You’ll find that you peel away protective facades and allow yourself to express your vulnerabilities. Whether you decide to do this on your own or with a group of friends as the women in the Far East did, you’ll discover honesty and maybe it will be cemented in tears, letting you come to grips with sorrows you had buried in your subconscious that needed to be expressed before you could move forward with your life.
If you form a Writers’ Circle, to meet for this kind of speedwriting, it can develop into a closely bonded group. Members can take turns to think of a topic but it should only be disclosed at the last minute when everyone is ready to write. I tried the experiment once with a group of my students and the subject was, believe it or not, “door handles.” It was amazing what they came up with when they let their imaginations flow unimpeded. Door handles were turned to enable them to step into magic gardens; to new and better lives; to entering places that were forbidden to them until then. The important thing to remember is confidentiality must be assured when you open up your secret imaginings and fantasies, judgments are never made, all emotions are admissable and both laughter and tears are held in equal esteem.
To those who want to write and are just taking their first steps, “stream of consciousness” writing is a wonderful way to overcome writers’ block. It lets loose intense emotions that can come to the surface and provide inspiration. In such a safe environment, it is easy to be honest with yourself.
Many authors, like Virginia Woolf, have even published their stream-of-consciousness writing. Psychologists have often used it in therapy for anxiety-ridden patients or those experiencing traumatic nightmares. The very act of writing down one’s secret fears helps to banish them. You should not try to do it on a computer, because the technology interferes with your unimpeded flow of words. I have tried this kind of speedwriting sometimes, and when I’ve read it over later, have occasionally found an unexpected poem hidden among the words.
When asked why I write (and I write a minimum of 1,000 words a day) I usually reply that I do it to clarify things for myself, to help me understand my life and put things in perspective. I find this happens even when I am writing fiction and different events are happening to characters I’ve created in my mind. My motto, printed on my letterhead, has always been: “Every act of creation is a self-portrait. Autograph your work with excellence.”
Godfrey Howard, speaking to the Authors’ Club in London, said: “Writers write because they love language, because they want to share their visions, and because they want to throw a bridge across the void.”
I believe writing is one of the most therapeutic things you can do. If you have never done more than write letters, try it. If you want to get rid of writers’ block, try it. Lose your inhibitions and let the words pour out unimpeded. You may be surprised and delighted where they will take you.
Happy writing. I am here to help you (free) with any writing problems. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org