April 25, 2016 – Recently, I have found conversations turning to the idea of “unconscious writing” – where structure, grammar, focus, and even content of the piece isn’t consciously or analytically mapped out. It simply flows, and we write down what we hear. What flows is usually the stuff of self-expression – memoir, journaling, passion, and exploration of who we are and what it is that drives us forward. Encounters with unconscious writing can leave authors amazed (“It wasn’t me who wrote my book!”), enticed (“My conscious life seems so normal, but then I learn otherwise in my writing and in my dreams…”), or frustrated (“I can write technical and factual information very well, but when I try to write from my heart, it comes out stilted or my mind goes blank.”) Often, unconscious writing, or journaling, is used as a way to gain access to hidden aspects of our soul. It is also the “juice” that makes the difference between an ordinary and extraordinary story.
One way to achieve unconscious writing is by employing ritual. Writers are known for their rituals. In order for creativity to flow, they must have the right pen (or keyboard), sit in the right place, have a proper drink or snack by their side, clear the space, pace the room in a particular way, do a chant, walk the dog, arrange the doodads on their dresser, or whatever it takes each day to shift from ordinary, everyday concerns into their creative space. This is how they open themselves to a place where inner experiences simply unfold and they can feel the story and write its essence as it flows in front of their eyes. It is for them alone. All judgement is suspended, all grammar, logic, and direction, except as the story carries itself to its inevitable (and sometimes surprising) ending.
Some writers practice unconscious writing by using writing prompts. You can find these in writing classes or online, or simply make up your own list. A writing prompt is a short assignment you give yourself to write about. It can be an idea to explore, an experience you had, a dream you wish to fulfill – anything! Choose your topic, sharpen three pencils, feed the cat, and sing a song to the writing gods (or whatever your personal writing ritual is), begin writing, and see what flows. No audience, no judgement, no plan for publication. When you are done writing, you can read it through. If it has some “juice,” save it to read again next time. If not, throw it away. Tomorrow is another day.
*photo (c) Art Held, 2016
Next up: Part II, Samples