Odd free writing behaviour
June 16, 2009 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Why does this happen when I free write?

I've been trying to overcome a serious writer's block lately, so I've been free writing.

A strange thing always seems to happen when I do this though, I end up closing my eyes, and my head starts to shake, first slowly, and then more vigorously as I go on, hitting the keys. This is completely involuntary and I don't know why I do it, it isn't unpleasant, exactly, but I wonder if something is wrong with me. Sometimes it can continue for the entire session, sometimes it stops when I reach a certain mental state; my eyes are closed, and I can't feel anything besides my fingers on the keys, and my head feels it is floating far above the keyboard, not attached to my body. I've experienced something similar to this before, during deeper stages of Zen meditation that I reached a few times when I was younger, but haven't been able to since (through meditation anyways).

I guess I have a few questions: To the writers among you, do you ever experience something similar this? Is there some kind of psychological basis for the head shaking behaviour? And sort of tied to that, is there something wrong with me, and if not, some way I can use this?
posted by paradoxflow to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a writer, and have never had anything like this happen to me, nor have I ever heard of it. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with you, but if it bothers you, try taking breaks. You didn't say how long you usually write while this is happening but I would take about a ten minute break for every hour of writing.
posted by Lobster Garden at 1:43 PM on June 16, 2009

I'll ask the obvious question. Could it be that you're simply falling asleep and possibly dreaming? I can "nod off," with my "head shaking," quite easily...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: I can't seem to find any relevant links on google, but I've attended writing workshops for academics that encourage free writing. One thing I've heard mentioned a number of times is that it's something to practice in moderation because free writing for too long at one go can lead to essentially altered states of consciousness. Maybe you have an unusually low tolerance threshold and this is related?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:46 PM on June 16, 2009

Are you just making yourself dizzy? When I close my eyes and make typing motions for awhile (experiment conducted especially for your benefit, no charge), I notice my head bobs and rolls a bit, as if I'm cartoon drunk.

I'm no physiologist or neuroscientist, but in coarse terms, I'm guessing this is because without visual cues I don't 'remember' where the 'horizon' is and so my head/body keeps re-leveling from inner-ear data.
posted by rokusan at 2:32 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: According to his friends, pulp writer Robert E. Howard went through contortions and shaking just as you described. He also wrote fast and furious in a stream-of-consciousness way. So, it's not like it's unheard of.

That was an interesting comment from penguin, too.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:33 PM on June 16, 2009

Is it possible that you're shaking/nodding to the rhythm of your typing? Or is it more like muscle twitches?
posted by phrakture at 3:28 PM on June 16, 2009

Response by poster: To answer some questions. I never do it for more than half an hour or so, so it comes on very quickly. It also definitely isn't a twitch or a spasm (not a bobbing or a rolling, but the same motion as if one were shaking their head in denial), or anything I couldn't stop if I really wanted to. And while it is affected by the speed of the typing, it couldn't say it is to the rhythm because there really isn't any.

The altered state of consciousness thing is possible, though I'm not sure why that would be something to be avoided, necessarily.
posted by paradoxflow at 3:53 PM on June 16, 2009

I'm a writing professional, but I think that you would probably want to consult with an ergonomist, physical therapist, or possibly a psychologist. I can say that, ergonomically speaking, typing is a fairly intensive process. Could it be possible that you concentrating so much on writing that you are transferring motion from your typing to your neck? I've had that happen, particularly when I'm fatigued. Remember to take frequent breaks when typing. Your future body will thank you.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: it sounds to me like you're just catching a groove.
posted by rhizome at 5:16 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Absence seizure? If you can in fact come out of it at will, it's not, and even if you couldn't it'd be a long shot.


(I am not a neurologist, just a hypocondriac that read some oliver sacks books)
posted by phrontist at 7:29 PM on June 16, 2009

Actually, scratch that, you remember them, so duh, you aren't seizing. It was just the head wagging thing that I found interesting - it's something a lot of epileptics do involuntarily.
posted by phrontist at 7:33 PM on June 16, 2009

A potentially related anecdote: I play the drums, and I always laughed at videos of drummers who wiggled around while they played. One day I filmed myself for kicks and much to my surprise I had all sorts of specific movements associated with certain rhythmic feels that I was totally unaware of. I had always though I sat ramrod straight.

Also of potential interest: flow states.
posted by phrontist at 7:36 PM on June 16, 2009

My personal logic process on this points to possible neurological issues, although I understand that you see this as a consciousness-related phenomenon of some sort. If this were happening to me, I would see a neurologist or maybe an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:19 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: Demonic possession, just to be inclusive.
posted by davidnc at 9:40 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was gonna suggest flow states, too.

I suspect that a lot of people have odd little things they do when they free write. I always have to lie face down on a bed, eyes closed, with my arm out to the side writing. I don't get the out of body experience precisely, but I go into a weird half-conscious state where I'm partly dreaming. Sometimes, depending on where the dream is going, and if I free write long enough, I am surprised to "wake up" and find myself on the bed. I don't know if that'd be classified as "out of body" or what.

Like phrontist, there's a whole variety of things I do physically when I have a sense of some sort of rhythm, even if it's just the flow of the words I'm writing. I'm fairly sure that I nod sometimes, though not repetitively.

As for how you can use it... I'm not entirely sure if what you experience is similar enough to what I experience, but I am able to take notes while sleeping, as long as I start before I sleep. This worked out well in high school, though I felt that it was rude of me. I did it by accident in college a few times, but I felt that it was very insulting to sleep during someone's class so I would just skip if I was that tired. (I always hoped they just saw me taking notes and assumed I was resting my eyes... ugh.)
posted by Nattie at 1:15 AM on June 17, 2009

Huh! Interesting. Well, okay, weird. :D I write, including free-writing, a fair amount (not professionally) and I can't say this ever really happens to me. The closest I can think of is that if I'm momentarily 'stuck' on something, like trying to remember some word or trying to recall a particular memory/image, I will close my eyes and kinda tilt my head just so, this way and that, maybe tapping on something with a finger/pen 'till I remember. It definitely seems to help my brain think.perhaps you're just doing a particularly intense version of this? Although, heck, it can't hurt to see a doctor about it.
posted by teresci at 9:45 AM on June 17, 2009

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