#100 How to write stream of consciousness
I host a webpage called What is Stream of Consciousness? Since I have already discussed what stream of consciousness is, today’s post is about how to write stream of consciousness.
I began streaming in early 2018, producing hundreds of thousands of words of material since. This body of texts started out as and now represent my private log of thoughts in a flowy yet most times dense, diary-like, notes-to-myself repository. This collection is only for me, while I release streams to the public about my reflections on the intersection of philosophy, technology, and psychedelics on my website’s blog called Stream of Consciousness or SOC blog for short.
To commemorate my 100th entry in my private collection, I decided to go meta: to write using the stream of consciousness technique about how to do stream of consciousness. The reason I did this was because I was telling all my friends at the time how great it was to write out thoughts in a casual, no-strings-attached way. You don’t have to follow convention, rules, or guidelines, except for a couple of basic recommendations that define the stream of consciousness writing style. After writing this how-to, I’d send friends an email with the text you’re about to read below. So, instead of repeating myself to multiple people, I could simply copy, paste, and then send the text to those interested.
A disclaimer: Upon reading one of my journal papers, my friend Alessio, who knew about my interest in stream of consciousness writing, said that my paper or parts of it sounded too much like one of my SOC blog posts. That it didn’t really represent, or rather, read like, an academic paper. I disagreed. I admitted that it was possible that the SOC technique may have influenced my academic writing, but I don’t think it has done or will in the future. Before writing any piece, I’m aware of what kind of piece I’m writing and for whom my target reader is. For example, I’ve written a journal paper and a thesis for academic audiences; a journal article, chapter in an edited book, and I’m currently working on my first book on psychedelic science for a general audience; and I have plans for writing more pieces in each of those categories. As long as one is reflective regarding their writing style or method and for whom the reader is, I don’t think the SOC writing style can seep much into other categories that demand other writing structures and styles. I mainly use SOC for my private collection of writings and my public blog. I also use it when I get an infrequent bout of writer’s block or have trouble getting to the essence or core of some abstract thought difficult to penetrate.
Without further ado, and to those interested in how I stream, please find below the text I originally wrote on Friday, August 24, 2018, and not published on other mediums . . .
How to write stream of consciousness
Congratulations for wanting to hop on “the stream”! Stream of consciousness (SOC) writing is an exercise that unlocks answers when the mind is posed a pointed question. It allows the inquirer to draw out and elaborate on thoughts that come to the mind and then written down as quickly as possible to not forget the nuggets of wisdom and to document the thinking process that normally would not be recorded during a conversational dialogue.
What: SOC is simple. At any time of the day, at least once per day, you sit down for any duration you want, you start with a prompt, and then write non-stop. You literally cannot stop, that is the point of the exercise. You are exercising your mind to come up with and analyze both trivial and complex thoughts, to deconstruct them, and to flesh out why you thought of such things. It is part creative writing, part journal, and part auto-psychoanalysis. On a personal note: I shoot for the writer’s quota of 1000 words per day (my average posts range between 1000-1500 words), I give myself 45-60 minutes although I usually cannot help to write longer than an hour because I’m so interested where my mind is going and what I’m discovering about the daily topic at hand.
Who: You can write alone or with a friend. Writing with a friend is interesting because you can start with the same prompt, write the SOC, and then read the text to one another to see where and how each other’s minds went. Another interesting idea to get inspiration for prompts is to create a group of friends with whom you would like to exchange prompts. In this way, you will always have a steady stream of prompts coming your way. To be clear, a prompt is usually in the form of a question but it can also be an unfinished question or statement. The prompt is simply a vehicle to get the writer writing.
Where: Most SOCs will probably take place at home. Pick a comfortable desk or kitchen table, somewhere you won’t be too distracted.
When: The time of day should be considered in my opinion. Writing at the moment you wake up is the most beneficial time for SOC because you have one foot still in the dream world and one foot in the waking world. I believe I am accessing hazy leftover dream world residues, imaginative lingerings from other worlds that I can’t explain. Foregoing the connection with the dream world in the morning might cause you to write less interesting SOCs, and if you do not do it in the morning, there is less of a chance you will do it later on when “life happens.” You will be tired after work, after you put the kids to bed, or when life unexpectedly becomes unexpected. The most important thing of the day, that task you want to accomplish, must be done right when you wake up and before work. If you start work at 8 a.m. then you must wake earlier to accomplish SOC or whatever it is you want for yourself. Dedication requires sacrifice. You may write later during your lunch break or after work, but potentially at your own productive peril.
Why: I can only answer why I started SOC writing as I cannot speak for others. I want to be a writer and found that I wasn’t writing. I took notes, but never wrote anything of substance. I told myself: if you want to be a writer you must write each day. I knew of the SOC technique but never thought I could just pick a weird question I had in mind and just start writing short essays on everything that popped into my head. A writer’s workshop course I took helped with my current passion for SOC writing. I learned the importance of prompts, and how to consider and use a prompt to push me into writing about something. My first short story was the result of a prompt and SOC writing at the workshop.
How: I want to offer some words of encouragement to anyone wanting to stream. First, aim for 500 words and do it daily, even if it’s shit. As I like to say, lots of things grow on and from shit, and you never know what might develop from unsound ideas and argumentation. Second, prompts themselves are not meant to be good. Good prompts are good but so are bad ones; it’s not about the prompt itself but rather where the prompt takes you, which is the point. Third, whenever you get stuck mid writing, write literally what comes to your mind, even “I… do… not… know… what… to… write… right… now.” My advice for sticky/blocked moments is: return to your original prompt as you may have gone on a tangent; ask a new question; ask defining and deconstructive questions such as “what did I mean by that idea, word, or phrase.” Fourth, the best questions to ask when in a tough spot are: what is at stake and where does the tension lie in this discussion and what truth/message wants to be revealed? These cognitive turbo boosters get to the core of what is being teased out, the truth and wisdom that wants to be discovered by you. Fifth, reading (anything!) helps because it increases your vocabulary and thus your ability to articulate in richer detail what it is that you want to write about. My university education and interest in philosophy has given me critical thinking and analytic skills that have been honed, perfect for my interest in exploring the sober mind, to dive deep into myself and not turn back when things get rough. Sixth, it is possible and may be interesting to try a conversational SOC, in that, you record your verbalized thoughts into a speech-to-text computer program and then copy/paste the text into a word processor. From there, you can modify and polish the spoken text in the document.
On that note, I wish you the very best in exploring topics that are of interest to you. And remember: you are what you do each day. Good luck!