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The Stream of Consciousness Writing Technique & How to Use it

Stream of consciousness writing, or free writing, is one of my favorite tools as a writer. It’s especially useful if you’re stuck (writer’s block, anyone?) or at a loss for what to write about. 

That, to me, is one of the more frustrating things as a writer – not knowing what to write about!

So I frequently pull out this tool, pick a topic, a word, or a picture, and just see where my mind takes me. And I want to teach YOU how to use it, too!

You won’t always end up with something worth keeping, but it’s important to build a writing habit in order to increase the quality of what you produce in the long-term. (Blog post all about the importance of a writing routine coming at you in a few short weeks!)

So let’s talk about what the heck this is!


What is Stream of Consciousness Writing?

Stream of consciousness writing is when you let your thoughts flow directly from your mind to your page without filtering any of it. Frequently, this is done with a timer, and you’re supposed to write everything exactly as it comes to mind, without stopping, until your timer runs out. 

No editing as you go along. 

No worries about creating the next scene in your book or the next poem to post to Instagram or your next blog post. 

No pressure to write something that needs to be presentable so it can go out into the world and work for you in some way. 

Make sense? 

Essentially, the purpose of stream of consciousness writing is to unlock what you may be holding back, consciously or subconsciously. 

As writers, as people who spend a lot of time in our own heads, we are very protective of what comes out of them. And that’s not always a bad thing. But remember that your writing time, alone with your thoughts and words, is a safe place. 

Try writing about a new topic. Dabble a little in a new genre. Who cares what it sounds like?

This is a safe place and experimentation is part of the writing journey.


What is Purposeful Stream of Consciousness Writing? 

Now, my favorite way to implement stream of consciousness writing is to do so purposefully. 

Well, duh, but what does that mean??

I’m not sure about you, but this is what happens to me when I write nonstop about whatever floats through my head. I end up with a lot of sentences along the lines of this: “I don’t know what to write about, but here I am writing. Blah, blah, blah, writing, writing, writing.”

Not helpful. Not beneficial.

And actually, having about 15 minutes of garbage sentences like that (the only time you’re allowed to use the term “garbage sentences” in your safe, don’t-judge-your-writing place) can feel like a waste of time, and it’s frustrating. 

We have enough insecurities as writers without using a technique that others supposedly find so helpful and we find to be a dud. 

You might find yourself thinking, am I doing something wrong? I must be less of a writer than so-and-so because they wrote this amazing piece that went viral with their first stream of consciousness attempt! <— (Stay tuned for a blog post about what to do when your mind sounds like this!)

I don’t want that happening to you!


Grab my FREE worksheet below with the 3 steps to purposeful stream of consciousness writing, plus writing prompts to get you started! Read on for the three steps.


3 Easy Steps for Purposeful Stream of Consciousness Writing


1. Choose a topic

Pick a topic, word, phrase, or picture, and go from there. You can set a timer if you want, but you don’t have to. 

(I recommend setting a timer because when you get to the end of it, if you’re on a roll, you can easily keep going. But if you’re struggling that day, it’s nice to have an end point so you can stop guilt-free and still feel like you’ve accomplished something.)

Specific words and phrases are generally better than a broad topic – think “I never waited” or “into the fire” versus “love.” The phrases evoke more specific thoughts, emotions, and scenarios than “love,” which is likely to overwhelm and subsequently paralyze your thought process with far too many options. 

If you’re stuck in writer’s block, especially, this technique will not be helpful if you pick something too general!


2. Meditate

Once you have your word, phrase, or picture, close your eyes. I like to call this the meditation phase (and if you get stuck at any time during the exercise, come back to this step). 

Think about your word, phrase, or picture. Let it echo through your mind. What thoughts, images, or emotions does it evoke in you? 

For example, the word “serendipity” might conjure up a chance meeting between two people meant to be together – where do they meet? What are the circumstances? What other words come to mind? 

You might think of pastel colors on a breezy beach. Laughter, tinged with nostalgia. The bittersweet feeling that years were lost, but at least they’ve found each other now. 


3. Write

Write everything down. Set the scene. Make a list of the other words you associate with serendipity, and then branch out from there. 

The important thing is that you don’t leave anything out – you can edit and cut pieces later. For the purposes of this exercise, keep it all, and see where it takes you. Nothing is too dull, silly, or cliche.

And once you’ve reached your stopping point, whether that’s the end of your timer, a word count, or you’ve simply run out of things to write, reflect on the exercise. What worked well? What didn’t?  

Maybe try something different next time – hop on Pinterest and find an inspiring photo instead. Develop this into your own technique using what works best for you. Once you’re comfortable with it, use this technique to work on your next poem, story, scene, or blog post. 

I would love to know how this technique worked for you! Have you used stream of consciousness writing in the past? Did my purposeful technique help you? Drop me a comment below!


Ready to try this exercise for yourself? I created a FREE worksheet (including writing prompts!) so you can get started right now. Click the button below to get yours!

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HISTORY, PURPOSE AND USAGE Testing 1

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HISTORY, PURPOSE AND USAGE

Lorem ipsum, or lipsum as it is sometimes known, is dummy text used in laying out print, graphic or web designs. The passage is attributed to an unknown typesetter in the 15th century who is thought to have scrambled parts of Cicero's De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum for use in a type specimen book. It usually begins with:

“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.”

The purpose of lorem ipsum is to create a natural looking block of text (sentence, paragraph, page, etc.) that doesn't distract from the layout. A practice not without controversy, laying out pages with meaningless filler text can be very useful when the focus is meant to be on design, not content.

The passage experienced a surge in popularity during the 1960s when Letraset used it on their dry-transfer sheets, and again during the 90s as desktop publishers bundled the text with their software. Today it's seen all around the web; on templates, websites, and stock designs. Use our generator to get your own, or read on for the authoritative history of lorem ipsum.