The benefits of stream of consciousness writing

Stream of consciousness writing is an exercise that involves you getting a notebook, picking up a pen and just writing. You ignore punctuation, style, grammar, format… anything that stops you from writing.

The idea behind stream of consciousness writing, therefore, is that you write in a state of flow.

What does this mean?

It means that, if you’re feeling out of sorts, for whatever reason (maybe you’ve had a bereavement and you’ve got that aching feeling inside; maybe you’ve had a bad day at work; maybe you’re in a stressful relationship) you may be experiencing a sinking feeling inside. That sinking feeling is what drives you to write - and you do so continuously, without interruption and without taking your pen off the paper.

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The American philosopher and psychologist William James (brother of the novelist Henry James) was said to have coined the phrase stream of consciousness in ‘The Principles of Psychology’ written in 1890. The term infers uninterrupted flow like that of a river or stream. Stream of consciousness narrative is also a term and technique used in literature to capture interior monologue - the random stream of thoughts, feelings and observations of a character.

Stream of consciousness writing itself involves you writing down whatever comes to mind. You don’t try to stop it, edit it, bypass it, judge it or re-phrase it in any other way than how it is coming to you. It is akin to crying, or completely bearing your soul to your most trusted friend and, in this case, the trusted friend is you.

What are some of the benefits of stream of consciousness writing?

1. This exercise is an extremely powerful source of release. Writing down everything that’s on your mind allows you in the moment to get off your mind the ‘stuff’ that’s weighing you down, and not allowing you (in that moment) to live your life in the way you want.

2. A further benefit is that you are making sense of what is in your head and your heart in that moment. Very often, we have a myriad of thoughts and emotions in flow simultaneously. Depending on the personal situation you’re in you may have a number of thoughts and feelings just going round and round in your mind and in your heart with no end. Stream of consciousness writing allows you to articulate those thoughts and feeling.

This can help you to:

  • Gain insights into yourself and the world around you that you may not otherwise have had.
  • Articulate, and come to terms with, those thoughts and feelings.
  • Commit your thoughts and emotions to paper. Once you’ve finished writing, you have the choice as to whether to keep or discard what you’ve produced.

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3. A third benefit is that stream of consciousness writing can leave you feeling calm, centred and more balanced. The reason for this is that you’re being honest, truthful and open perhaps more so than ever before. The effort that it takes to keep these thoughts and feelings buried or managed on a daily basis is lifted off your shoulders. You can be completely in touch with who you feel you genuinely are - safe in the knowledge you won’t be judged, not even by yourself (that’s the rule of this exercise).

This exercise allows you to write for as long as you want until you come to a natural stop or you feel that sense of balance. Alternatively, you can set a timer so that you write for just 10, 15 or 20 minutes, then stop. The choice is yours and, to an extent, is based on how much time and headspace you can give to this activity.

Stream of consciousness writing is a very powerful exercise that can lead to great shifts, great insights and a great sense of release. So next time you’re feeling out of sorts, pick up a pen, get a notebook and begin writing. You may be pleasantly surprised at what emerges!

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