Friday 12 June 2015

Proprioceptive Writing

Writing the Mind Alive
Write what you hear, listen to what you write, and ask the Proprioceptive Question

I was introduced to this method of writing when I did a Visual Journalling course, earlier this year.  I was quite impressed with the results.  Whilst I’ve done a lot of creative writing throughout my life I had never come across this method before.  And because I HAVE (!) to collect everything that relates to my field of interest I bought myself a copy of the book the course leaders used; namely Writing the Mind Alive: the Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice, by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.

One of the first things I discovered was that the method isn’t strictly appropriate for looking at photographs.  This is not to say that I don’t commend Kim and Sally for using it, because it certainly has a place in the toolkit.

By way of an experiment I’m having a go at using the ‘correct’ method for at least five days of the week for the next three months.  I will let you know how I get on.  I have discovered that it’s about listening to what you’ve written and questioning it.  So, very unlike stream of consciousness, which method I used for some years when I was doing Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages; but apart from expressing my horrible feelings (and for many years they were horrible) I didn’t feel it was doing very much for my skills as a writer.  Yes, it was great to get the angst ‘out there’, but that’s all it was doing for me; and, eventually, I just didn’t need to be dwelling on me, me, me.

The following is a compilation of my notes and some of the text that appears in the book

The word proprioception comes from the Latin proprius, meaning ‘one’s own’.  Through proprioception we are enabled to synthesise emotion and imagination and to feel bodily as well as mentally. Proprioceptive Writing enables you to make that shift, to experience thought as mere words in your head - to hear a  living voice in your ear - and your relationship to your thinking changes: you begin to awaken the auditory imagination - the capacity to enter your thoughts in an interested, non-judgemental way and to gain awareness of yourself.

"The first step in finding your voice using Proprioceptive Writing is capturing your actual moment-to-moment thoughts in writing.  The second, equally important, part is overhearing them as if they were spoken" The authors maintain that if you practice Proprioceptive Writing you’ll develop an awareness of the sound of your thinking.  You begin to imagine your thoughts as a persona with a voice.

And I have already discovered that the kind of hearing I do during, what the authors call a Write, requires my total undivided attention.  It’s like an intense form of eavesdropping, on myself.

Further, that it’s not just about expression, reflection is also required.  I think the authors are correct in saying that reflection is what makes Proprioceptive Writing different.  Most forms of process writing separates expression from reflection or encourages expression over reflection. Trichter and Simon consider that thinking is an “act of imagination and reflection and enquiry … In Proprioceptive Writing reflection is a spontaneous response to whatever your feeling, what idea you are expressing; it’s the other end of the see-saw.  It’s a natural gesture that allows you to elaborate your thoughts and examine a meaning in the light of emotion and reason.”

“Writing supports your reflections because it holds thoughts still… You are expressing your thoughts in writing so you can reflect on them.”  In this way the practitioner avoids deciding to quickly what to write.  It is not about keeping the pen moving or “Don’t think, just write!” 

Not my usual practice, at all.  “Proprioceptive Writing is specifically designed to slow thought down and allows time to explore it – and not judge it.  So, it’s not unlike creation in any form; in its early stages particularly; it demands an exactly similar attitude.”

The way to do it!  Light a candle, start listening to a recording of Baroque music, and take several breaths to centre yourself.  Now write for twenty-five minutes on sheets of loose, white, unlined paper following these three rules: 

1. Write What You Hear
2. Listen to What You Write
3. Be Ready to Ask the Proprioceptive Question: ‘What do I mean by—?

When you are finished (I use a soft and subtle timer) write down your answers to the four concluding questions

1. What thoughts were heard, but not written?
2. How, or what do I feel now?
3. What larger story is this Write part of?
4. What ideas claim up for future Writes?

Now read what you’ve written, preferably aloud.

Blow out the candle, staple your papers together and file them away in your Writes folder.  Do not edit these Writes or look at them, for the time being…  What happens when you return for a Study Session is another story.   I will tell you more once I’ve amassed enough for a Study Session!

The claim of Proprioceptive Writing is that it enables you to require the habit of attention.  You learn to define and redefine the words you use. “You get particular, you get careful, you make more demands on your language to say what you really mean.”  This is certainly been my experience, to-date.  I have begun to hear myself and to trust myself.  Many people have described the process as a form of meditation and I concur.

For more information available at the PW Centre


  1. Interesting to hear what you have to say about this method of writing, Sophia. This is one exercise of our class which I didn't really feel was me. So to overcome my slight aversion, after the course, I ordered the book to go into it more deeply. I'll let you know my thoughts in three months time!

  2. Wow! So we are both doing this. Great stuff.