Journalling Through a Time of Corona 4


I wonder how you’re getting on in lockdown. Are your days carefully structured or more free-flowing? Hopefully, you’re finding a healthy balance. This interplay between structure and freedom is a feature of the writing process. So far my writing prompts have focussed on more structured exercises. Today I want to offer some suggestions around free-writing. 

Free-writing is when we simply write continuously, letting the words flow onto the page.If you’ve ever been to one of my face-to-face writing sessions, you’ll be familiar with this activity.

Start with a short prompt. This can be a sentence opener, such as: 

Something I’ve … learned/noticed/been thinking about/feel deeply/been remembering lately is. Or simply  ‘I wonder..’  ‘What I really want to say is…’

Set a time-limit for your writing. This could be 5,10, 15 minutes. It’s up to you. 

Step I Start writing and follow one rule only: Keep writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or even staying on a subject. Just keep going. Even if that means writing ‘I don’t know what to write,’ a few times till something sets you off again. The writing will take you where you need to go. 

Step 2 Re-read your writing. Ask yourself ‘What do I notice?’ Perhaps a word, phrase or subject strikes you as significant in some way. Something surprises you, or resonates with you. Circle this, or note it down as a bullet point underneath.

Step 3 Make a Note to Self. What do you want to take away from this exercise? It might be something to do, or let go of, or come back to, or remember or…. whatever. 

All writing starts with the process of getting words down on the page. This is our raw material. If we are writing creatively, we may mine it for ideas, images and phrases to develop into a crafted product of poem or story. If we are writing for our own wellbeing, we look for the insight or action this material suggests. The end-product here is ourselves and changes we may make in our lives.

Free-writing can be a powerful process, so it is worth being aware of a few health and safety caveats.

1. Privacy is paramount. We won’t write freely if we fear that someone else may be looking over our shoulder.

2. Set a boundary round this writing. It is generally a time boundary, though sometimes I have set myself the limit of writing one page. This offers a creative pressure to put words down alongside the safety of a clear stopping-point.

3. Be prepared to encounter some discomfort over what your writing may bring to the surface. It may need to unsettle you to be useful. Sometimes my most fruitful writing emerges just as I think I’ve got nothing more to write. BUT..

4. If this writing becomes more deeply distressing, especially if you are writing about something traumatic, then stop. The intention of the writing is to move you forward, not entrench you in difficulty. Pace yourself and do not go further than is helpful. The page will wait until you are ready to pick up your pen again. There is a wisdom in knowing the difference between when to press on and when to let up. 

5. Always do something with the writing afterwards. Do not skip Steps 2 and 3! This is vital in making the writing useful, so you not end up going round in circles on an issue. Of course, one thing you might do with the writing is to shred it, if the issue is something you want to put behind you now you’ve seen it in front of you on the page. 

Some Free-Writing Variations

Although I’ve offered the standard, basic format above, free-writing can be nuanced in different ways:  

  • Use this approach intentionally on an issue you want to explore rather than letting one emerge. Set this as a heading for your writing and consciously stay on topic.
  • Keep a notebook and collect your own prompts – quotes from books read or words overheard; things that come to mind or catch your attention in some way. You then have a journal free-writing resource handy when you come to write. 
  • Give your free-writing a title after you have read it through. What overall theme or topic suggests itself ? This can be useful if you want to find it in your journal at a later date. 
  • Do a succession of free-writes. Pick out the most striking phrase from a first free-write and make it the starting prompt or heading for a second round. Do the same again and write for a third time. Where has the writing taken you? You are likely to have drilled down to very pertinent territory. 
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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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