How 3 Months Of Free Writing Rewired My Brain

October 17, 2022

I was always a fan of journaling. I started with keeping a daily diary in elementary school, then discovered gratitude journaling, later gradually moved on to morning pages and shadow work journaling to heal my childhood wounds and PTSD. A few months ago I discovered a new technique which is lesser known, called free writing.

I went through all the phases of journaling: the disconcerting feeling to find out that what mostly spills out on the paper are gripes, worries, fears and anger at people, places and things. I’ve seen all these pristine journals on Pinterest, beautifully hand-inked with perfect calligraphy… I felt like a failure with my scrawls and scribbles that  I’d never dare to show to anyone.

I had to realize that I am not writing my journal for others, I am writing it for me! I can’t censure my raw thought and negative feelings in front of my own eyes—they hold the key to my happiness and my future. If you truly enjoy coloring and drawing in your journal, by any means please do so, but also know that however your journal naturally looks is how it is supposed to look like. So if creating a picture perfect journal entry is what is natural for you, that is it. For me, natural looks like having coffee stains on my pages. Some pages are colored by grass, others are a bit torn or wet and my handwriting is hard to read sometimes, since I like to write in nature by water. This shapes my experiences and my pages. There are pages I ripped out because I was ashamed of what I wrote and I performed a cleansing ritual by burning it.

As a spiritual seeker, I know in my bones that creativity heals—and luckily, the medical profession is catching up with this, too. In fact, when I was at university a decade ago, I visited a psychologist for a while who prescribed journal-writing to me.

I practiced free writing daily during the past 3 months and it helped me to rewire my brain and set it back to a previous yet evolved state compared to where I was before my brain got “messed up.” By “messed up” I really mean messed up. My brain used to be an amazing tool for me when I was younger until I met my narcissist ex. The gaslighting and trauma I went through completely changed the way my brain operated and my thinking patterns (which became incredibly negative and basically was in a 24/7 survival mode). I even had problems with my memory. I had serious issues trusting people and myself and was living in a constant flight or fight mode.

I keep talking about free writing and journaling so much, you must be curious what is the different between the two, right? I hear you.
Let me explain.

Journaling is more like private writing for the benefit of the writer, with the focus on things the writer already knows. Journaling can be done randomly, writing about things you want at the moment or like in case of shadow work journaling, answering specific questions for yourself to bring things into your awareness.

Clue is in the name. Free writing is free from all restrictions. Everything is permitted and whatever ends up on the paper is “correct” even if it’s total nonsense. Yet, similarly to journaling, free writing is also private, but different in that free writing is not necessarily addressed to the Self. As there is no restriction, you can even address it to someone else. The main difference is while journaling talks about your own memories and experiences, thoughts etc. free writing goes beyond all these.

Here’s an example from my life that might help to understand the difference:

I picked up the habit of journaling when I was dealing with depression, I usually wrote about particular events in my life. This helped me to learn to address my emotions and acknowledge exactly what I was feeling. I used to carry my emotions with me throughout the day or even longer. When I journaled about my feelings I could “put them down” on the paper and focus on other tasks ahead of me.

Now, when I am free writing about an event it can become anything. I can start out writing about the same event but end up writing a poem about the riffles of the baldachine over the bed in the room I was in. Or writing about my feelings  addressing it to someone, reading it back I might have realizations about things I wasn’t aware of, things others did and made me feel uncomfortable and I wouldn’t even focus on them if I’d be journaling. Because if I write to someone else I include details I wouldn’t write down in my journal, as I was there I don’t need the description, so while looking at the same things with fresh eyes, from new perspective I see things otherwise would be missed.

Now you know what is free writing, let’s explore how to do it!
I learned the essentials of freewriting in a workshop: Unimpeded and nonstop writing to a prompt and for a set time, in which you give yourself permission to write “whatever comes”.

  1. Intentionally bring yourself into the writing environment
  2. Have a clear prompt to write to
  3. Set a time limit and using a timer
  4. Get out of the way, allowing whatever wants to be written to happen
  5. Write faster than you can think, and don’t stop until the timer goes off
  6. Give yourself permission to write any crap, do not judge your writing

I learned to be open and accepting with myself  during this writing process, as I can’t predict what will come off of my chest. Sometimes it’s a series of haikus that have nothing to do with each other and might not even be correct to the form, other times childhood memories come up, or random complaints or a monologue I never had the chance to perform in front of my retarded ex-team leader. There are some prompts that unleash my creativity (like the one that requires to begin from a sentence that was gibberish). Even a photograph could be a prompt.

It’s seems fun, innit? Well, it’s not always as easy as it seems but certainly enjoyable, always. You can start off with 5 minutes and build up to 10, 20 minutes gradually. You can hesitate, in those cases I keep writing the same sentences or random words that come to mind, or literally I’d write about writing this sentence here because I have no idea what to write,  until I start up again. The idea is to keep the pen moving for the whole duration of the set time.

The benefits I noticed on me after 3 months of free writing:

  • easy access of inspiration, anytime, anywhere
  • self discovery on a deeper level
  • releasing emotions that held me back
  • untangling life issues
  • returning to my truth
  • recognizing my own authentic voice
  • gained new perspectives
  • cleared internal clutter
  • gained back my confidence
  • learned how to show up more authentic
  • understanding what is truly important for me
  • made amends with the past and present issues
  • recognizing new possibilities
  • eliminating distractions easier
  • becoming more couragouse in writing
  • being able to extend that courage to the rest of my life
  • becoming more present in the moments
  • realized that the voice in my head, my inner critic is not mine – it1s the voice of old teachers, parents, trainers etc.
  • befriending my actual inner critic
  • realized that my thoughts are not mine, ut mostly inherited from others or learned during socialization
  • being able to stop the flow of negative thoughts and see them in a different light
  • eliminate these negative thought patterns and replace them with new, more constructive ones

But what I want to leave you with is that freewriting can help you to get beneath the ordinary day to day way we use our minds. It can open the door to another world inside you—and that world is larger than the world around you.

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Photo: Unsplash

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Imola is a Hatha and Ashtanga yoga teacher, tree planter and writer and editor of Raised by the Wolf, an online magazine for Wild Women, with a passion for exploring and life outdoors. Originally from Hungary but currently planting trees and rewilding the enchanting forests of France. Hop over to RBTW magazine, and blog and follow her on Instagram @yogiraisedbythewolf


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