Can’t write? Use your stream of consciousness to get you started

Though it may sound counterintuitive, writers have been distracted during this pandemic. But how can we be now that we’re no longer engaged in a multi-tasked life previously understood as “normal?” Self-isolation should give us nothing but time to write but we can’t seem to get the job done.

The absence of what filled my time, a void, became the distraction. Though I had plenty of writing to do, I couldn’t get to those works-in-progress or beyond the first draft of my novel. Thinking about my reading and writing to-do’s was taking more time than the actual doing. My head felt like a dam, filling up quickly with rising pressure to release.

I remembered my days of journal writing, when in my teens and twenties, a hardbound book was a testament to my inner discussions of the day to sort it all out. I thought why not put this practice to use again. If I could clear my mind, much like a meditation, and focus on my voice and self-expression, I was optimistic I could get back to my writing routine.

My journal pages read like a “stream of consciousness” as if sharing with my best friend my experiences, conversations, fears, and hopes, and confessions. The hardbound books are a continuous timeline with insight into the becoming of me and are responsible for the making of my memoir.

Stream of consciousness writing helped me then, and it continues to help me with my writing.

But what exactly is stream of consciousness writing and how do you do it?

The writing is continuous. Not to be confused with freewriting where there is a specific amount of time given to write, stream of consciousness writing is not bound by time or length. It’s unedited, unstructured, and it’s a way to show a writer’s internal thoughts, processed quickly, and how and where the mind travels. A writer doesn’t have to think about settings and dialogue.

To get a feel for how this writing sounds, Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers, uses a stream of consciousness style in Mrs. Dalloway. 

...And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen… –

For fans of Jack Kerouac, his On the Road Again, is a great example too.

The following is an excerpt of a stream of consciousness writing I used when working on my memoir:

Evolution portrays as I sit with pen in hand recalling my beginning in school to learn the alphabet and how each letter sounded separately and then together and then taking a book in my hand and learning to read as I said aloud the words together to make sentences and discovered complete thoughts where now I’ve taken the beginnings and molded my own structures to form stories that are excavated from layers below the cracked surface drawing upon that lonely day in class sitting on a tiny chair looking upward, eyes meeting their lids, following the taps of the wooden stick from letter to letter sound to sound from one blackboard to another. 


how do you get started?

A great thing about this tool is anyone can use it! It may have a fancy name for a simple way of writing, but all you need is time, and we seem to have it these days! When you’re ready to write, think about the following as you work into it.

*Home in on your senses.

How are you feeling? What are you feeling? Reflect on your physical and mental states. Are you hearing something you are sensitive to?

*Keep your fingers (or pen/pencil) moving in time with your thoughts.

Let neither stop. Don’t censor yourself as you go.

*Forget grammar and sentence structure.
Don’t capitalize, punctuate or mind your spelling. Make up a word if it comes to you. Get your creative thoughts moving, mirroring how they naturally flow, which is not in complete sentences or correct grammar. Use short phrases or long sentences.

*Don’t edit.
Editing will only undermine what you are trying to accomplish.

*Use internal monologue.
When remembering conversations, let the “he said, she said, and then I said” flow from your head, to your fingertips, and on to paper. 

Use pieces of your stream of consciousness writing to develop characters, construct dialogue or record reflections in your memoir. You can also develop a fictional short story from writing about an experience—like I did! 

On a recent walk in the woods, I stopped on a small bridge overlooking a North Branch of the Chicago river. The sun was just right overhead; it looked as if diamonds were exploding when the sun’s rays kissed the river. I wrote about the experience, noting how I was energetic, how quickly it was warming up, how the birds’ songs were plentiful and their notes particularly piercing, how I didn’t have a care in the world, how the trees were budding quickly, how the green was soft. I recorded my thoughts of traveling on my walk, to the woods, to the bridge, to my feeling of energy. From this stream of consciousness writing, a fictional story about a boy’s walk in the woods and “When the Sun Kissed the River,” was born.

Stream of consciousness writing has helped me to move forward when my writing stood still. 

I am no longer distracted today. With the help of stream of consciousness writing, I’ve completed a third draft of my novel, and a short story ready for publication.