Directed Contemplative Writing—a variation on free writing

I’ve started a new writing project—working with my longtime friend and writing colleague, Stephanie Farrow who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the last weeks we’ve developed a way of working which I’m analyzing into steps below in hopes it might help those writers among Riehlife’s readers. [Note: This is filed in the Write, Pen! section where you’ll find all of the Riehlife writing suggestions stored.]


The rules for freewriting, of course, are along the lines of “write as fast as you can without making corrections” and so forth…in an effort to get around the critic, and go deeper than the intellect.

In what I’ve coined as “Directed Contemplative Writing” the need for speed is replaced by placing the mind.

In Clive Matson’s “Let the Crazy Child Write!” workshops, one question he always asks participants to answer the first night is “What is the Crazy Child for you?”

Right now, my answer would be “directed contemplative writing” because using this technique allows us to produce writing that is akin to listening in on the unconscious mind, the creative unconscious.

1) Choose a nugget to work, from previous writing, conversation, or your thoughts.

2) Keep it simple…no more than one word or at most a short phrase.

3) Use your nugget as your touchstone throughout the piece. What Gabriele Lusser Rico calls “rhythm and recurrence.”

4) Journey to the place you need to be in to write closely with your nugget…maybe a real physical place, an emotional space, or frame of mind.

5) Scan. What do you know about this nugget? Follow it through like a thread through a maze. Take your time.

6) Go for sense image and the life of the object. Stay with the body, the visceral, in order to take the reader there and in order to keep you in the charged writing space.

7) Learn what it takes for you to get comfortable and cozy.

Writing is inherently risky because it involves revelation. One writing process guru says we need to “hush and hold” at the beginning of creative work.

What makes you safe and cozy?

For me, it’s fuzzy socks and a blanket my mother bought on her travels…combined with the cave conditions of dim light and quiet.

For others, it’s being surrounded in a coffee shop with muzak as an aural surround. Learn what it takes for you to get comfortable and cozy companion.

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  1. It seems I do nothing in a traditional manner. I always write (even my first draft) on the computer and I tend to edit as I go. Free writing is something others do and I admire them for being able to not correct as they go.

  2. Yvonne…this is too funny! 🙂 The editor in you edits yourself as you write. This is really cool. Everyone writes so differently. My father has it all planned out in his head before he starts.

    If you want to experiment with the freewriting, blindfold yourself and just touchtype….or, take the keyboard away from the screen and go…..and just type as if talking to your best friend.

    On the other hand…what you’re doing works for you…so, unless you need a new style, why worry?


  3. I am sitting in the meadow at Silver Creek in the High Sierras. Jim and Moses, our Basenji, are near, but I am alone. A soft wind stirs the grasses while a woodpecker thrums nearby. The aspen leaves gradually whip up ito a song. A poem tries to break through, but I resist, staying in the moment. This is a time and place to remain in, when my loved ones were still with me, when the future wasn’t yet today.

    Thanks, Janet

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