Thursday, July 14

Write, hear, know

[A guest post by Mandy Haggith]

Here is a simple and surprisingly powerful method for loosening up your creativity. I have led many groups of people through this process as a warm-up exercise on creative retreats and creative writing workshops, and I do it myself, on my own, whenever I feel stuck. It is the best way I know of listening to myself.

You will need a notebook and a pen or pencil, ideally ones that allow you to write quickly. If you insist, you can type, although personally I find the quality of thinking that flows out of a pen and onto a page is completely different from, and much more helpful than, the words that arise out of double-handed action on a keyboard.

Step 1: Write freely and without stopping for five minutes. Do not correct spelling mistakes or grammatical errors or worry that what you are writing is incoherent or pointless or rubbish. Nobody else will read it unless you show it to them. Allow yourself complete privacy and freedom and let whatever words wish to get written onto the page. Just scribble. If you don’t know what to write then write, ‘I don’t know what to write’, over and over and over. Eventually you will get bored and write something else. After 5 minutes, stop. Read over what you have written, underlining any words or phrases that seem interesting. Choose one of the words or phrases and write it down. Do this quickly, without analysis.

Step 2: Use the word you have chosen as the start of a second burst of automatic writing. Write for 5 more minutes in just as free a manner as before. Read over the second section of writing, and again find a word that jumps out.

Step 3: Use this new word as the trigger for writing for 5 more minutes. Read over what you have written.

Very often, people find that in this process they have made a discovery of some sort, revealing something about themselves or their creative direction. Today, for example, I discovered that I’ve been denying to myself how much I miss the intellectual challenge of academia. The last time I led a group in the exercise, one of the members realised that in the piece they were writing the protagonist was gay, which changed the whole story.

Why does it work? I can’t give a definitive answer, but this is what I think. Metaphorically, our creativity is a stream flowing out of a personal reservoir of sensory life experiences, and stream-of-consciousness writing helps the water flow freely and keeps us in touch with where we are creatively.

What seems to be key about the ‘write, hear, know’ process is the act of stopping and reading back over, thereby listening to and respecting what the subconscious is saying. Choosing a word to continue with is an acknowledgement of what has been read, like picking out a glitter of gold that has been washed down the stream. During the second burst of writing, I often find that my body loosens, as if trust has been established. Often the ‘discovery’ or ‘revelation’ happens during the third period of writing after the choice of the second word has reinforced that the internal voice is being heard and attention is being paid to the creative flow.

To use a different metaphor, I sometimes think it is like diving and coming up for air, then diving again, with a greater sense of what is below. After a second breath, you can reach all the way to the bottom and retrieve whatever it was that you had lost overboard.

Perhaps it is simply about tuning into your mind, which requires a couple of turns of the dial.

Whatever the explanation, try it. I hope it works for you and something revealing turns up on the page.

Mandy Haggith blogs at

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