How to Write Stream of Consciousness

Virginia Woolf once wrote, "Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind." In this post, we hope to free your mind through stream-of-consciousness writing.

We will share literary examples, the potential benefits of practicing stream of consciousness writing, and practical exercises to get started.

Here's an example of this technique used by Virginia Woolf in the 1925 novel "Mrs. Dalloway."

Virginia Woolf Quote image courtesy of Goodreads

In this passage, the reader understands the beauty perceived by the narrator through sensory descriptions that have a disjointed, poetic feel about them. It is as though you are experiencing the scene through the character's eyes.

What is Stream of Consciousness Writing?

Stream of Consciousness is simply capturing thoughts as they occur in the mind. This type of writing opens the flow of thoughts from the brain, spilling them upon the page. It is like a word-for-word transcription of a person's thought process.

In literature, stream of consciousness writing puts the reader inside the mind of the character. It imitates the human thought process realistically. It's unstructured, non-linear, repetitive, and contains free associations. Authors like William Faulkner, James Joyce, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust are known for incorporating stream-of-consciousness writing into their work.

What are the benefits of Stream of Consciousness Writing?

While authors can use stream of consciousness in writing a story, anyone can write a stream of consciousness to benefit their well-being. You don't have to be a novelist to harness this technique.

When you practice stream of consciousness writing, it creates a deep connection within oneself. Like meditation, it increases self-awareness and focuses on the present moment. It opens up the mind and dumps out its contents, both the good and bad.

How to Write Stream of Consciousness
How to Write Stream of Consciousness

And we're familiar with bad thoughts, aren't we? The type that nags at your better judgment. The endless loops of resentment and guilt spiral down to a dark place. Putting these thoughts on paper might seem dangerous, but it's helpful to get them out so that they don't live rent-free in your head.

Author Tim Ferriss identifies these thoughts as his "monkey mind," stating that his morning writing routine is "simply giving it a two-dimensional prison or playpen so that I can then move on with my day."

Although it isn't immediately apparent that this writing exercise helps creativity, Julia Cameron (author of the Artist's Way and originator of "Morning Pages") suggests that it finds ideas that would otherwise not surface.

She says, "It's as though you have taken a little dustbuster and you go poking into all the corners of your consciousness and you come up with what you put on the page."

How to Write Stream of Consciousness
How to Write Stream of Consciousness

Stream of Consciousness Writing Exercise & Tips

Unlike other types of writing that result in an end product like a speech, novel, or blog post, stream of consciousness writing is more about the act itself than the outcome. Think of it as exercise for your mind. You run, bike, lift weights, and train your muscles with regular exercise. This writing habit helps train your mind - your most important muscle.

Now, because stream of consciousness writing is literally writing anything that comes to mind, there aren't any rules to follow. However, to get the most out of this exercise, I suggest the following tips and techniques:

Pick a quiet area to write. Fewer distractions the better. Tell your cohabitants that you'll need some time to write uninterrupted. Turn your phone on "do not disturb" mode. Create an environment where you can focus on the writing exercise. If you can't help but be surrounded by other people, wear noise-canceling earphones and listen to music without words like instrumental or lo-fi beats. Or, if worse comes to worst, you can lock yourself in the bathroom.

How to Write Stream of Consciousness
How to Write Stream of Consciousness

In this exercise, you might be using plenty of potty words. Your handwriting might be so bad that you hardly recognize your own chicken scratch. That's OK. Because you're writing for yourself. Burn the pages if you're concerned about anyone else (even yourself) reading them later.

Speaking of burning, let's fire the internal editor. Let the thoughts flow in all their non-linear, unstructured glory. Forget grammar, punctuation, or coherent narrative. I know, in the modern age of autocorrect, it's difficult to let mistakes lay where they lay. Yet, if we're constantly censoring and correcting our writing, we'll never truly be open and honest enough to let our stream of consciousness flow.

To avoid the red squiggly lines underneath the words you write, I strongly suggest writing by hand. No cables, no battery to charge, no app notifications, no wi-fi signal needed - handwriting keeps this exercise private, calming, and easy to perform anywhere.

To make writing as enjoyable as possible, I suggest using a pen that is  comfortable to write with rapidly. For this exercise, I opted to use a Sailor Professional Gear Kure Azur fountain pen in a medium nib, inked with Platinum Classic Citrus Black iron gall ink that darkens from a lemony yellow to a mellow ochre as it dries. The journal is an Endless Recorder blank notebook that comes with a guide sheet you can place under the page.

How to Write Stream of Consciousness
How to Write Stream of Consciousness

Although you should have no problem getting your pen to start flowing, the words might not come as easy. If you're stuck and have nothing to write, you can simply write "I have nothing to write." No words? Just doodle or scribble. Keep the pen moving. Use sensory observations. Pick a strong emotion you're feeling and unpack it. Ask yourself "why" five times over to dive deeper.

The stream of consciousness can and will be, repetitive. To the onlooker, it might seem disturbing to see a page written with "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" repeated from top to bottom. However, repetition is to be expected when transcribing our thoughts on paper. It shows what the mind is most focused on.

In terms of exercise length, you could set a limit, like the 3-page benchmark set by Julia Cameron in "The Artist's Way," or set a timer for 5, 10, 15, 27 1/2 minutes, or more. Who doesn't have 5 minutes to spare for the benefits of this writing exercise? Make some time today and get the ink flowing.

If you have any questions about this exercise or would like to see more posts on writing tips and techniques, please put them in the comments below. Share this with a friend who wants to get into writing on a daily basis. I hope this article got your pen moving today. Stay inky, my friends.

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