“Once you connect with your mind, you are who you are and you are free. Natalie Goldberg


When I first began attending writing workshops, I noticed that they always seemed to start with some form of stream-of-consciousness writing. Natalie Goldberg, author of the best selling Writing Down the Bones, begins every workshop she teaches with her writing practice exercise. I believe she is the one who popularized this idea.

Wild Mind writing, as she sometimes calls it, is a timed free writing practice, done with the intention of clearing the mind and silencing the inner judge. It has been highly successful. Here are the rules the author is (admittedly) somewhat fanatical about:


  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Lose control. Say what you want. Don’t worry about being polite, correct etc.
  3. Be specific. Not car. Red corvette.
  4. Don’t think.
  5. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling.
  6. You are free to write the worst junk in the world.
  7. Go for the jugular. That’s where the energy is. Don’t avoid what hurts.

This “wild mind” exercise is similar to the Morning Pages by Julia Cameron and is intended to disarm the inner Censor  who criticizes everything we do. Natalie Goldberg’s  emphasizes the difference between journal writing and free-writing. You want that stream-of-consciousness writing, but it isn’t a journal writing-type experience where you are reflecting on your thoughts and emotions.  I can agree with that. Sometimes I think the creativity gets lost beneath the weight of the daily ramblings in my journal.

What I like about the Wild Mind Writing:

  1. It is timed. There is an urgency to what you write. Rather than allowing your mind to ruminate over this and that, you have to keep your pen going which promotes more impulsive thought and random ideas.
  2. Not confined to morning. At the beginning of your writing session, you do a timed free-writing activity to stimulate your imagination, warm up your writing voice and silence the inner judge.

What has not worked for me:

  1. I have not done the timed writing before each writing session and adhered strictly to the rules enough to monitor progress. What I have found is that my writing has slipped into my usual journal writing. What has become apparent is that I need to adhere to the rules more strictly to gain the benefits Ms. Goldberg talks about.

What I have been doing in my practice is a hybrid of the two exercises: Wild Mind Writing and Morning Pages. I have written my three pages at some point in the day, but I have not timed them. Despite not following the rules, I found this practice to be highly successful in terms of motivation and idea production. Free-writing is crucial to creativity and to staying positive about our creativity. No matter which art you choose to pursue, silencing that inner judge is essential. Discover who you are as an artist and as a person. Authentic art comes from this knowledge. Authentic art is work that matters.

When I teach this exercise in my workshops for young writers, I simplify it somewhat. I call this Mindless Musings.

  1. Keep writing. Don’t stop until the time is up. (I start with 3 minutes and move up to 10 minutes  as the age and stage of the writers dictate.)
  2. Write whatever you want. Switch topics as often as you want.
  3. Use complete sentences. No “grocery-list” type writing allowed.

Tip: If you can’t think of anything to write, write “I can’t think of anything to write,” until an idea pops into your head and then write that.

However you approach it, fitting these practices into your daily routine will be well worth the effort. Check out The Artist’s Way and Writing Down the Bones for inspiration and motivation, not to mention imagination!

Happy creating!

Published by Lois Donovan

Author of historical time travels, THE JOURNAL and WINDS OF L'ACADIE, Lois is in demand as a speaker/presenter at literary conferences and young writers' conferences and teachers conventions. Lois grew up primarily in Riverview, New Brunswick, but has called Calgary home for many years. Currently, Lois enjoys life in Calgary with her husband, daughter, son and daughter-in-law.

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