The Benefits Of Free Writing For Your Creativity And Mental Health
Free writing is just one of the many life hacks and personal development tools that promise us happiness benefits and more success in our lives. A strategy coined by Peter Elbow in 1973, free writing is simply the process of putting pen to paper, and writing for a set period of time with no thinking, judgement or editing. You’re not supposed to stop writing at all, you don’t worry about punctuation or grammar; your thoughts just flow freely in a stream-of-consciousness babble all over the page.
Peter Elbow’s example of free writing looks something like this:
“I think I’ll write what’s on my mind, but the only thing on my mind right now is what to write for ten minutes. I’ve never done this before and I’m not prepared in any way–the sky is cloudy today, how’s that? now I’m afraid I won’t be able to think of what to write when I get to the end of the sentence–well, here I am at the end of the sentence–here I am again, again, again, again, at least I’m still writing–Now I ask is there some reason to be happy that I’m still writing—ah yes! Here comes the question again– What am I getting out of this?”
This might seem like a complete waste of time, but writers swear by the benefits of free writing to aid their creative work. And it’s not just creativity that is enhanced by this tool—free writing can also have amazing benefits on mental health too. This guide will outline just a few great things that can come out of regular free writing:
Free Writing Allows You To Enjoy The Process
The benefit of free writing is that there’s really no end goal. There is nothing you have to achieve, nothing to work towards, and no standard to uphold.
Often in life, we do things to reach towards something at the end of the tunnel. Have you ever been working towards a goal and been so driven by the prize at the end that you hated every minute of getting there? Sometimes we strive towards a goal with such determination that we forget to look around while we’re doing it and smell the roses.
With free writing, the process is the whole point—you are literally just writing for the sake of writing. Goals are really helpful for helping us achieve what we want in life, but they can also prevent us from being present and aware of what’s going on while we’re trying to get there. Free writing prevents us from developing tunnel vision and lets us enjoy the ride.
Free Writing Lets You Make Mistakes
If you’ve ever tried free writing, you’ll know that it’s absolutely impossible to write non-stop without making errors along the way. The act of not creating something polished and perfect can be a source of anxiety to many people, and can cause us to want to go back, edit and polish. Because of our educational upbringing, we are taught that mistakes are bad and should be avoided, and this can cause friction when trying to be creative; if you truly want to create something original and unique, you have to be willing to slip up every now and then. You also have to push past the fear that whatever you make will be rejected or ridiculed in some way.
Aside from creativity, an unwillingness to make mistakes can also seriously impact our mental health. It can cause a fear of failure, a tendency to bottle up difficult emotions, or an inability to admit when you’re wrong. Free writing benefits us in creating a safe space where nothing can be wrong and mistakes are encouraged—and the great thing is, you start to realize that mistakes don’t really matter.
Free Writing Allows You To Sort Through Your Thoughts
If I’m feeling particularly stressed or worried about something, I turn to free writing in order to get some clarity on my thoughts and emotions. I don’t allow myself to edit or censor my words—I write exactly how I’m thinking and feeling, even the horrible bits that I find shameful or embarrassing.
When I read this back to myself, it gives me a much greater understanding of my feelings. I’m able to detect my anger, my sadness and my fears and look at them more rationally, rather than having them bounce around my head—which can be very confusing. Psychotherapists have celebrated the use of free writing in therapy as a way of clarifying emotions and loosening the grip of scary thoughts and feelings. Everything written down on paper doesn’t feel nearly as bad as when it’s floating around in our minds. This is a huge mental health benefit as it releases the control that our thoughts and emotions can have over us.
Free Writing Helps You Generate New Ideas
We all have many many thoughts running through our heads constantly, and for the most part, we ignore a significant chunk of them. We dismiss them as weird, silly or unimportant.
Creative people often talk about how our unconscious thoughts hold our most innovative ideas, and that to tap into our unconscious mind is to tap into our creativity. When you free write, often words spill on to the page that you are unsure where they came from. By freeing our brain from conscious thought, we allow our subconscious—and therefore our creativity—to be unleashed and find its way on to the page, which gives the benefit of new insight into a problem or a project we’re working on. In fact, Jack Kerouac swore by free writing as a way of unlocking his unconscious in order to write. Also, it’s crazy and interesting what ends up on the page at the end of it!
Above all, free writing takes practice, perseverance and energy—but the benefits are abundant when it comes to our creative thought and our wellbeing. Try it out for a week or so and see what comes up for you!
Have you tried free writing? What benefits or shortcomings did you find?
About the Author
Charlotte is a freelance writer and creator of the blog The Healthy Goal Setter. She writes about self-care, mental health and personal development, often drawing from her expertise in Sport Psychology.