Finding Clarity of Mind in Writing

Freewriting

Have you ever noticed how busy your mind is? Jumping up and down, moving forward and backward, if not predicting the future, it’s thinking three to five steps ahead of you, recollecting days long gone, or joyously repeating over and over a catchy tune you just can’t place. The moment you try to think about when and where you heard this tune, you’re in deep trouble, for your mind will try to recall more days gone by and invent those it can’t recall, with the tune playing mischievously in the background. Then, before you know it, your mind takes a U-turn, do a backflip, and is now playing weatherman, forecasting rain and urging you to bring an umbrella to work. All these before breakfast, while you’re on the shower, or maybe while you’re still on your way to the bathroom.

I discovered a way to tune down this busyness of the mind, like most discoveries, quite by accident, while working on a new chapter for my manuscript. It was one of those days where I find myself staring at a blank page, not knowing what to write at all. I tried to pry ideas out of my mind but it was futile, my pen won’t budge. So I laid down my pen and sat back in defeat. For quite some time, I did nothing but observe the thoughts that popped in and out of my mind. Then I absently grabbed my pen and languidly wrote down one thought after the other. After writing several lines, my pen gained momentum; at first swaying, then swinging, and eventually tap dancing all over the place. After writing around six pages, I set my manuscript aside and decided to call it a day.

I reviewed my work the following day, hesitantly, for I was half expecting it to be terrible; and indeed it was. Six pages of consistently incoherent nonsense was a sight to behold. Here and there, are lines that read “Just keep writing, writing, writing…” repeated over and over. Thank goodness it wasn’t “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated over and over, otherwise, this would have been an entirely different and scarier story. My mind must have been in a jolly mood for having conjured Dory instead of Jack Torrance from The Shining. Anyhow, my manuscript was painful to read and I was about to stop reading when something caught my eye and I did a double take. I was amazed to find ideas for my chapter interspersed with the nonsense.

It turns out that this process of writing whatever comes to mind is called freewriting. It is a writing technique in which you write down all your thoughts continuously, without worrying about grammar, spelling, or quality of thought. The goal of this practice is to increase the flow of ideas and to make the writing process more comfortable. In practicing it regularly, I realized that by giving my mind permission to go wherever it likes, think whatever it fancies, or sometimes not think at all, the knots and tangles of my turbulent mind unravel, allowing new perspectives and surprising insights to come into view. The vital thing is to be a spectator of the movies in your mind, not a director, not an actor, and certainly not a critic.

Imagine talking to someone who constantly interrupts you mid-sentence, corrects the sentences you managed to complete, offers you trivia like Sheldon Cooper, and admonishes you to abandon your sins and lead a better life. Now imagine living with that someone 24/7. Sounds familiar? That’s you! That’s what you do to your mind. No wonder why your mind runs the other way every time it sees you approaching. So please be kind to your mind and just let it be. Thoughts are just thoughts, they’re not inherently good or bad; what matters is what you do with them.

That’s how I found clarity and peace of mind through writing. However, it may not work for everyone. All I ask is for you to try a freewriting session and see for yourself. All you need is a pen and paper, a comfortable place to sit and write in, and a few minutes of your time. Having these things in hand, all you need to do is sit back, relax, and observe your thoughts. Don’t start writing yet; don’t even think about writing. Just put your pen in hand and wait for your hand to start scribbling. When you start writing, don’t stop until you’ve written a couple of pages. Don’t worry about the time you spent on doing this exercise. When you feel like stopping – stop. Put your pen down, set your paper aside, and just fuhgeddaboudit – read what you wrote in a day or so. Most freewriting exercises require you to set a timer, then start and stop writing from bell to bell, just like in a round of boxing. This does not sound relaxing at all. However, you may set a timer if it suits you; I only advise against doing so on your first freewriting session.

If you wish to take a break from the incessant shenanigans of your mind, I encourage you to practice freewriting. This goes for everyone, not just writers, for the mind is never picky on whom to torment.

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