Creative Automatic Writing: Getting Past the Censor and Generating Energy

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Our internal dialogues plan, worry, criticise, and take up a lot of mental energy. If we are finding life stressful, writing can be an ideal place to stage an intervention and regain our energy, our creativity, our mental space.

Writing is something that is often intimately bound up with stress and judgement. This is usually connected with school experiences. And for people with dyslexia who went to school before diagnoses were taken seriously, who were often insulted and treated as ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’, there is often significant distress or trauma.

Learning to write is a significant step into socialisation, into the public world, moving out of the private sphere and out of what comes naturally. We learn to speak a language (or two or even more, depending on what is spoken at home and in the environment), in a natural way, unless we have some specific problem connected with speech or language learning. We absorb native languages naturally, like sponges; we don’t need to sit down and be taught. Learning to write is starting to no longer trust the process of absorbing the environment like a sponge, and naturally growing new skills as we ourselves grow. Learning to write is the doorway to gaining all kinds of knowledge about the world, and we need to sit down, ‘be good’ and codify what previously came naturally, in order to reproduce it ‘the proper way’.

Language is also the domain of our internal dialogues: the voices that plan, worry, criticise, and tell stories about our lives, helpful or unhelpful narratives that describe the world the way we see it, compare ourselves to other people, remind us of past events, imagine future events, and generally chatter on and take up a great deal of mental energy.

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If we are finding life stressful, these factors make writing the ideal place to stage an intervention. If we want to regain our energy, our creativity, our mental space, our intuition, writing can be a brilliant tool.

I am not talking about writing as a way of managing thoughts, making plans and intentions concrete, or even journalling. These can be really valuable tools, firming ideas up and making them solid and real, and journalling is a valuable way to explore and organise our inner worlds. Writing things down makes it easier to get distance on them, gain perspective and analyse them.

Creative automatic writing, though, is not a way of analysing or organising reality. It is a way of neatly stepping past the censors, critics, judges and analysts in our heads. The way I do it, there’s only one rule: don’t stop. Don’t take your pen off the paper, don’t think. Just carry on. Start with a word or phrase that is meaningful, or just start by writing down what you see in front of you and see where it leads. Don’t worry about ever having to read this again; you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Don’t worry about anyone else ever reading it, let alone about being a ‘real’ or a ‘good’ writer.

You’re bound to discover some interesting and surprising things as you go. Writing at my own workshop this afternoon, I discovered a very vivid beach in my mind, complete with a mermaid making beautiful siren noises under the waves. I found pearls, and tree trunks, and a strange recurring theme about sawdust. When I felt that no more was coming, I just wrote ‘keep going’. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t about the mermaids. I realised that I would like some more contact with water right now, but that’s enough analysis for me. If the mermaid was important, I would sense that.

What was important was the experience itself — allowing the words and images to come through, and feeling the sense of one word, phrase, or image, generating others in what felt like a totally natural way, the way in which speech comes to a young child. All the mechanisms of conscious analysis had been swept aside at the very beginning of the exercise, and the relief was immense.

A sense of relief is a really valuable sign that some energy has been released. This means that I’ve probably stopped doing something that had been tensing me up before, and I didn’t even realise I was doing it. The longer I write this way, the longer I remain engaged in a creative process without being concerned with the result, and the longer the mental processes of judgement and comparison are suspended. This relief, the sigh, is followed by new energy flowing in. New creative energy is what we need, to use for meaningful purposes. And if writing some fairly random content without taking the pen off the paper is the way to get some, I thoroughly recommend it.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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