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Boost your creativity with stream-of-consciousness writing

A few days ago, while meditating, a passing thought reminded me that soon, I had to write an article for the Thinkergy Blog. Almost instantly, an idea for a possible topic entered my mind: Create an article about the creative power of stream-of-consciousness writing. Intuitively, the topic idea felt great right away. I could already imagine myself creating the article and picture both the process and the final output in my mental eye. So, here we go. 

What is stream-of-consciousness writing?

Stream-of-consciousness writing was originally a literary method that aims to capture the multitude of thoughts and feelings passing through a storyteller’s mind. But SOC-writing is also a powerful individual creativity technique to help creatives to produce better outputs.

When engaging in SOC-writing for some time, you let your thoughts freely flow onto the paper in a nonstop stream of words. Thereby, it’s essential that you keep on jotting down words in a quick, non-judgmental way. So, no criticism, no self-censorship, no editorial corrections — just let the words flow. Of course, the words you write are nothing but verbalizations of your inner thoughts and emotions.

I first came across this powerful individual creativity technique in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s classic book on individual creativity. Cameron advocates that creatives should write “morning pages” as an ideally regular SOC-writing exercise when searching for inspiration and intuitive insights.

“‘I still don’t understand why the pages must be done in the morning. I write so much better at night.’ Let me be clear: good writing is not the point. Think of your pages like a whisk broom. You stick the broom into all the corners of your consciousness. If you do this first thing in the morning, you are laying out your track for the day. Pages tell you of your priorities. With the pages in place first thing, you are much less likely to fall in with others’ agendas. Your day is your own to spend. You’ve claimed it. If you wait to write pages at night, you are reviewing a day that has already happened and that you are powerless to change.”  ―Julia Cameron

How to practice stream-of-consciousness writing?

  1. Go to a quiet place where you are undisturbed for 20-30 minutes (ideally, do this first thing in the morning in line with Julia Cameron’s advice).
  2. “Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on,” recommended the US writer Louis L’Amour. So, begin by writing your first word, which can be as simple as “Hello” or “Good morning.” Then just let more and more words flow onto the paper as fast and fluently as possible. Don’t judge and critique your thoughts or edit your notes; just let it flow. Or as the Irish novelist and avid SOC-writing practitioner James Joyce put it, “Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?”
  3. Ideally, write your SOC notes with a pen on paper or your iPad instead of typing at your computer. Ordinary handwriting tends to bring you easier into a steady flow of writing and a contemplative and even semi-meditative state. Julia Cameron noted in this context that, “Pages must be done longhand. The computer is fast—too fast for our purposes. Writing by computer gets you speed but not depth.”
  4. When the dedicated time is up, or you feel you’ve exhausted what you want to say, take a brief break and move away.
  5. Then, come back to your desk to review your notes. Highlight noteworthy thoughts, meaningful insights, exciting ideas, and action plans using different colors and icons for different outputs. Then, add relevant content to your action plans, To Do-list, idea notebook, etc.
  6. Please take a brief moment to appreciate the effectiveness of your SOC-writing practice with gratitude for the ideas and insights you’ve gained from it. Then, begin with your regular creative work for the day.

“The worst thing you can do is censor yourself as the pencil hits the paper. You must not edit until you get it all on paper. If you can put everything down, stream-of-consciousness, you’ll do yourself a service.” 
—Stephen Sondheim, American composer and lyricist

In what ways can stream-of-consciousness writing raise your creativity?

SOC-writing can open up blocked channels through which creative (and productive) energy flows. It connects you to your intuitive mind and allows you to tap into the depths of your subconscious mind and perhaps even your spiritual mind (the realm that the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung called the collective unconscious). As such, SOC-writing goes beyond conscious creativity that you can easily assess with simple creativity techniques such as Brainstorming, asking what if-questions, engaging in word associations, etc.). It also allows you to dive into the more mysterious worlds of subconscious and even superconscious creativity. (I discussed these three realms of creativity at length in two earlier articles titled Shifting to the advanced states of human creativity (Part 1 and Part 2). 

So SOC writing is a technique that allows you to get ideas straight from your subconscious mind – and if you’re really lucky and work on an important creative challenge or project for a longer time, you may even get a breakthrough idea while engaging in SOC writing and incubating on the challenge). (Check out also the article Incubation: A walk on the mysterious side of creativity).

For creatives who are not in flow, such as a writer suffering from a writer’s block or an inventor who’s got stuck resolving a particular engineering problem or design challenge, practicing SOC writing is an effective creative tool to unblock the mental obstacles and get back into flow by allowing your thoughts to freely unfold themselves on paper.

What other benefits can SOC-writing offer to you?

  • Balance: SOC-writing can calm, center, and focus your mind when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, confused, or lost in mental clutter. The practice tends to reveal your dominant emotional state that dominates your thinking at present. Our central nervous system tends to respond to the stimuli bombarding us at any moment with positive responses (e.g., contentment, interest, amusement, joy, or love) or non-conducive emotional states (such as restlessness, worry, anxiety, fear, irritation, annoyance, or anger). So early on, after beginning a SOC-writing exercise, check on what emotional state you’re in right now and why you feel that way.
  • Productivity: SOC writing can also help you identify and focus your productive energy on those vital few actions that matter most now, which can make the most immediate positive difference in your life today. Insofar, the technique is also an action prioritization tool that can boost your productivity.
  • Gratitude: SOC writing also offers you the chance to realize how lucky you are, particularly on days when negative emotional states cloud your thoughts. As such, also early on in a SOC-writing practice session, expressing gratitude by writing down a few things that you feel grateful for in your life today. Relishing a moment of gratitude is also one of the most simple and effective ways to silence the judgmental voice of your biggest enemy: your ego. Your ego is your false self that always wants to have more because it wrongly suggests you are better, more important, and more worthy than others. Your ego is also the arch-enemy of your creativity and productivity because it makes you waste mental energy on obsessing about non-conducive things, situations, and people
  • Self-acceptance: In contrast, SOC-writing tends to reconnect you to your true self, your genuine inner voice, your soul, your eternal spirit. Your essential core is who you really are when you resolve to throw away the ridiculous mask that you wear to please others and gain social approval and when you dare to show your true colors. When you insist upon yourself, you are a genuine original. And you can only create original content in moments when you live and voice your unique originality. Geniuses and outstanding creative leaders tend to work at their best and create the most astounding outputs when they’re in perfect harmony with their authentic selves.

“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the Weather.” —Bill Hicks, American stand-up comedian

  • Issue identification: At times, the barriers blocking your creative and productive channels may be related to certain people, situations, events, and actions. SOC-writing allows you to identify the external factors and forces that have brought you out of balance and devise action strategies on how to best deal with those limiting circumstances to return to the flow zone of easy, effortless, and enjoyable creativity and productivity.
  • Empathy: Suppose certain people are the source of your stress. In that case, SOC-writing can also provide you with an opportunity to empathize with these persons on a deeper level and to improve interpersonal relationships. As stated before, the technique tends to connect us to our soul, which intuitively understands the interconnectedness of everything and thinks in win-wins. So, walk a mile in the shoes of other stakeholders involved, and look at the taxing situation through their points of view.

Conclusion: SOC-writing connects you to your creativity and spirituality

“If you work on your creativity, you will grow spiritually. If you work on your spirituality, you will grow creatively. Creativity and spirituality are so close they are intertwined. We call God ‘the Creator’ without realizing it is another word for ‘artist.’ The Creator is the consummate artist. As we explore and express our artistry, we are imitating God. Is it any wonder we begin to find spiritual support?” ―Julia Cameron

“A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life,” noted the American writer Tobias Wolff. Forgive me if this article isn’t up to your expectations — I wrote it as a SOC-writing exercise to stay true to the topic. I withdrew myself from the world for almost two hours and then just let the words flow out of my mind. Later in the afternoon, I typed the text. The next day, I gave it a gentle editorial treatment, thereby spicing up my output by adding relevant quotes from Julia Cameron and other creators sharing worthwhile thoughts on SOC writing. But the core of this article reflects my voice – how I practice SOC-writing, why it’s a valuable tool for creative professionals, and why I believe you should experiment with it and consider adding it to your personal creative toolkit. 

“I am rooted, but I flow,” noted the English author Virginia Woolf, one of the pioneers of stream-of-consciousness writing as a narrative device. SOC- writing can make you more centered, aware, grateful, authentic, insightful, empathetic, creative, and productive. So — when will you start streaming the words of your consciousness to the world?

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021

Credits: Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash