Free vs Automatic: What's my approach?

Updated: Feb 16

The beady-eyed of you across my socials have noticed that I’ve started referring to my notes process as ‘free writing’, whereas on numerous occasions before I had championed ‘automatic writing’ as THE notes forming process that would change the way you work. So what is the difference and why have I ‘switched’ to free writing?

Please note that I am not super involved or learned with the more historical elements behind these methods, and can only write this piece based from my experiences, initial research and basic opinions. Please educate me in the comments if I’ve said something wrong or misleading, and please let me know if you would be interested in me further researching why these methods are so often mistaken for each other, and/or what my notes process really entails.

Free writing, also known as ‘pre-writing’, is traditionally taught in academic environments where an individual writes continuously within a determined boundary - such as a set amount of time, or with a specific prompt, scenario, starter word or subject. It is often the first stage of a notes process, where the material produced is largely unusable, non-punctuated and acts as a very bare skeleton to later be ‘fleshed-out’ and developed upon when revisited.

Automatic writing, also known as ‘psychography’, is a method used to create written words without the individual consciously writing, with the supposed source of the produced material being a subconscious or spiritual power. Sceptics have suggested that those who produce successful or usable work whilst practising automatic writing are writing during a dissociative state. For those who practice or oppose this method, there are emotionally charged arguments on both sides, and without diving in too deep whilst researching, I could find no concrete evidence that states exactly what is happening to an individual's mind when they engages in this practice.

So to be clear, I am not actually changing the method of my notes process (boo for another click-bait title, but I did warn you). Initially in the olden days of hmrwrites *cough last year*, I would write for either five minutes or however long it would take to fill up an A5 page in my notebook. This was without a prompt or stimulus, it was just me sitting down and dedicating five minutes to writing whatever came into my head. It was an incredibly useful method, which I implemented exactly as I was originally taught it, but it eventually became exhaustive after serving me around eight months of useful notes (well, 230 days between 28th October 2018 and 14th June 2019 to be exact), before I decided that I would need a writing prompt to help me.

It is from being stuck in this rut that I then started to use writing prompts, thus beginning #30dayshmr, the writing challenge undertaken every month on my socials (which you can find out more about here). Ultimately, the idea of committing myself to using 30 writing prompts in 30 days acted as the basic framework to giving my notes the kick-up-the-backside they so desperately needed, alongside reigniting the fire of loving the creative process and allowing myself to write without restriction or technique.

Ok, so this isn’t a blog post about #30dayshmr, as I plug that to death across every other platform and during all other points of the month anyway. But the point I am trying to make here is that the only thing I changed about my writing process at this point was the use of a prompt; I was still giving myself either the boundary of time or the space of my paper to write whatever I wanted, but I centered it around the writing prompt. This is called free-writing, as whilst I was writing with a cliched ‘reckless abandon’, not bothering about sentence structure and choosing to focus purely on syntax and assonance. I am entirely conscious of what I am writing and what is happening, but I also think that this is where these methods can become confused, or where ‘free’ and ‘automatic’ start to become used as interchangeable terms.

By all means get carried away with your writing, and ‘learn to cultivate a work-lust’ through the ability your notes process gives you to ‘let go’ (Thanks Seamus); but please do not confuse this with your subconscious 'taking over' as this is an entirely different process altogether. Of course, we can have the tendency to dip into memories otherwise unexplored when we dedicate time to writing and to a true and focused purging of our emotions, but this is us doing this; we are tapping into an otherwise unused part of our brain of our choosing and of our doing, and so are completely in control of the work we produce.

As of February 1st 2020, with the publishing of #30dayshmr January online, I will be switching my terminology from ‘automatic writing’ to ‘free writing’ where applicable, and this includes ANY time I have mentioned automatic writing within pdfs and across my socials. If you have bought any version of #30dayshmr and would like an updated version with this new change of terminology, please email and I will be happy to send you an updated version.

I apologise to anyone I may have confused, offended or upset. I was originally taught the ‘free writing’ process as ‘automatic writing’ in a strictly academic sense. And whilst there are similarities between the two processes, the nature or place each practice comes from is inherently different, hence the change in how I will be referring to my notes process from now on. If you are less familiar with these terms, or looking for a new notes making practice, I urge you to carry out your own research and find what works for you - talk to other people in the #writing and #poetry communities, and decide for yourself from there. I have left below a few links to sites I have found useful in helping me to understand the complexities within and differences between these methods, although this list is not exhaustive and there are many other sources that can be explored if you’re looking for a deeper knowledge and understanding of these processes.

Until next time, H.M.




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References and Further Reading:

- Basic definition of Automatic Writing,

- Basic definition and method of Free Writing,

- Possible dangers involved with Automatic Writing,

- Essay discussing muscular movement in relation to Automatic Writing,

- Step-by-step, practical guide to practicing Free Writing,

- I also very badly paraphrase one of Seamus Heaney's poems from 'Station Island', my sincerest apologies to all.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to be featured, have new ideas or want to write for The hmrwrites Blog; I’m always looking for new people to collaborate with. Feel free to drop your own blog/website/socials in the comments.

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