Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Can the Free Association of Writing Help You Find Yourself?

The Pleasures of Reading book cover on a book shelf. Can you "find yourself" through writing?

Oh, my gourd, I see the words “find yourself” and cringe. What does it even mean? Is there a better term? Maybe…discover my own depths? Learn more about who I really am, what I want, clarify my thoughts and feelings and use them to my advantage, instead of running blindly through life?

“It is the very process of writing allowed the writer to tap unguessed levels of his own self, to achieve a kind of nonvolitional heightening of ordinary insight, as, analogously, the process of free association in psychoanalysis is supposed to do.”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That is exactly why I write, here and in my personal journals. My process with almost everything I write is to start and see where it goes. With books, I read and make notes, then go back later and pull out the quotes that trigger to me think a little. Most of things I made note of at the time I was reading, usually mean nothing to me a few weeks later. But those that do still trigger me get marked and brought here for further use.

I write out the quote in a word document and start musing. Sometimes I wander far from the author’s original intent. Sometimes I wander far from my own! And sometimes the trail goes nowhere. That’s when I file it away and begin again.

The same goes for my “New Read” and “Why I Get Up” posts. There’s a trigger and then some meandering down the path of thought through words. My personal journals go the same direction, but they are never censored or edited for content. They are mine only and lead me to more ah-ha moments that I use in my daily life. I apologize to anyone that reads those. They are circular and quite profane at times. I’m sure they look the ravings of a mad person.

“Nonvolitional” is the perfect word. They all just go where they go, a free association of thoughts followed by new ideas, and thoughts on those ideas, in the hopes that some conclusion can be found.

Once I get a bit down the path and feel like I’m close to a discovery of sorts, I close the document and open the previous day’s work for editing. That’s when I try to put a bit more order and polish on my work. I didn’t use to. I used to post right after I wrote. I’d say it was some noble attempt to “be real” but honestly it was just laziness.

The past few months I’ve tried to be more consistent and deliberate with my work. I start in the same way, but spend more time editing and rearranging things so that they get across better the idea I’m attempting to convey. Hopefully, I’m starting to get better at it.

What I do know is that I’m enjoying writing more, I’m getting much more out of the books I’ve read, and I’m learning a lot more than I used to. I’m able to quote from and use the information and helps that I’ve written on, in my own life. It brings me happiness, a sort of personal purpose.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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2 Comments

  1. In 2013, out of the blue, I began writing personal essays. At the time, I had a lot of nagging uneasiness that I didn’t understand. As I wrote, I uncovered a pretty complex mess of mental illness and insecurity that took me years to understand and begin to accept. Am I better for this self discovery? Hard to say. I’d love to be able to spy on a parallel universe where I didn’t make this discovery. It would be interesting to know which path produced a happier life.

    • Michelle Huelle

      I’m a firm believer that an examined life is a better life, but there is definitely something to be said for letting some things stay buried. I love imagining alternate timelines, like Dr. Who style in my head, but ultimately we only have this reality. Why not make the best of it, right? When I write personal stories, I write them to get them out of my head and heart. I thought I was making a record of events, but once the story is out it seems to lose its power over me, whether anyone else reads it or not. Hmmm…that sounds like a sci-fi movie idea!

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