Made in America

Writing Exercise: Stream of Consciousness

At some point or another, we’ve all been here: I hope I remember to get toilet paper from the grocery store… maybe I should write it down… look at me being on top of things… OK, now I’ll put the paper in this pocket so I don’t lose it… [10 minutes later] Wait, where did I put that paper, again? Every person is unique, with some common trains of thought and others that are much less relatable. But, regardless of which you examine, the step-by-step process of our thoughts unfolding is utterly fascinating. And there’s no better way to put those thoughts into tangible form than through Stream of Consciousness writing.

Dorrance Stream of Consciousness Writing Exercise 1

Stream of Consciousness writing, in literature, has two definitions. One is that it’s a narrative style within certain texts that describe the happenings in the flow of thoughts from the minds of its characters. The term with this definition was originally coined by the psychologist William James, who stated, “Consciousness … does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. …It is nothing jointed; it flows. A ‘river’ or ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described.” Essentially, it’s like an inner monologue given by your protagonist.

The second definition of Stream of Consciousness is a writing technique or exercise that involves writing without editing, pausing,  or hesitating- simply putting pen to paper and not stopping (often with an allotted time frame). For those of us who struggle to keep ourselves from editing as we go, this is an especially helpful technique to practice regularly. It’s also a great way to combat writer’s block or when you’re having trouble with a particular scene/section of your book. In addition, mastering the Stream of Consciousness writing technique, or writing completely unfiltered, will help you get inspiration on what free unedited thoughts look like (in case you’re ever planning to attempt a Stream of Consciousness narrative).

Complete the following exercises in order, using the ten-minute timer below for each one.

1) Write about you- your day, what’s going on in your life right now, your desires, your fears. Don’t be afraid to get personal, no one is going to see it. The important thing is to not pick up your pen from the page. Don’t pause or hesitate- just keep writing. This will serve as the warmup for the rest of the activities.

2) Grab a book, any book. Go to page 72 and copy the first full line on the page. Make it the first line of your story. Now, go to the first page and find the first sentence. Make this your last line. You now have a beginning and an end: write the story. Start the timer!

3) In ten minutes, write a story that includes the following words: moonlight, chair, crow, window pane, haggard, sidewalk, lounge, shell, jar.

4) Personify the walls of your house or apartment. What do they think? What do they see and observe about the comings and goings of the day? What is their opinion of what they observe? Do they have a name?

5) Using a character from your book, play the ‘I remember/don’t remember’ exercise. This is where you alternate every other sentence between something they remember and something they don’t. For example, I remember growing up in Georgia, picking tomatoes from the garden. I don’t remember a time where I felt safe.

6) Think of that scene in your book that you have been struggling to write for a while (you know the one). Take a minute to picture the events as they need to unfold. Start the timer and write the scene. Don’t make it perfect, and don’t pick up your pen or stop to think… just write.

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