I took a course in creative writing some time ago, but something that my professor said on the last day of classes always stuck with me. She encouraged us to write in any form, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or journal entries and she also said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Remember that the most important stories to tell are your own: your life and your experiences”. That really spoke to me. I’ve never been much of a journal writer, but I have written a lot of fiction before. I hadn’t considered how my own experiences might create a good story. Not long after, I decided to take up the activity of free writing and reflection. Free writing is an incredibly simple term that means to write constantly without paying attention to grammar, spelling, and structure. It’s essentially writing out a stream of consciousness and I’ve found it immensely helpful for reflecting on my life.
At first, I found it difficult to break free from the constraints of academic writing. Being a humanities student, I write many, many essays and usually this means that my mind is stuck in academic language and structure. I also have a habit of filtering and editing my sentences as I’m writing them down. But free writing has allowed me to let go of all those constraints. If I’m having a moment where I’m stressed out, have a 10 minute break, or am just bored, I free write. I write non-stop for 10 minutes without thinking about what I’m writing.
Writing non-stop, even if I can’t think of anything to write means that my pen shouldn’t lift from the paper. Sometimes I end up writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over again. I own dozens of notebooks (of various shapes, sizes, and colours) and I occasionally do free writing in those notebooks. But mostly, when I’m having a moment, I just write on a scrap or loose-leaf sheet of paper (never on my laptop). At times, I keep the writing I’ve done but most times, I don’t. The most crucial aspect of free writing and reflection is that I have to learn something from the experience.
When I’ve finished free writing, it’s interesting to read what I’ve written down. More often than not, there are things written on the paper that I wasn’t consciously aware that I was worried about. For example, I recently wrote down during a free writing session: “im afraid of failure but I shouldnt be cause thats what im here to do make mistakes and learn..” Notice that there are some grammar mistakes, but that’s okay. The most important part of the process is reflecting on your experiences and to learn something about yourself that you perhaps weren’t conscious of before.
I’ve always been afraid of failure, in all aspects of my life, but I hadn’t realized that it was weighing so heavily on me at this time. Free writing and reflection can be extremely satisfying if you have a spare moment in all your studying. I’ve said it before, but this is a busy time a year (and it’s unavoidable). But taking a moment to write, read, and reflect can truly help in stressful moments.
Do you practice free writing? In what ways do you practice self-reflection? Let me know in the comments!