Light shines on the keyboard, stroking each key with a bar of white, faint in comparison to the
letters and symbols printed on the small, black squares. Writing gives me a chance to be alone
with my thoughts, and in the process, discover hidden gifts mixed in the constant whine of self-
The writing practice we use at work has two distinct elements. The first is getting our raw,
unedited thoughts down on paper. And the second, in what may seem counterintuitive, is reading
them aloud and having another person repeat back a phrase or two that jumped out at them.
The raw, unedited writing is a letting lose where I can be mean-spirited, deflated, idealistic,
unrealistic, angry, strident, or hopeful. It lets me see below the surface of the carefully curated
self that has been taught to conform and behave and not care too much.
Free writing is to leadership what a food-diary is to health – a place to discover things I haven’t
seen before.
Without a food-diary, I was making green smoothies for breakfast and drinking a whole blender
full. It has 8 cups of greens! It’s healthy! More is better! Once I started recording what I was
actually eating, it was obvious that I was using It’s healthy as an excuse for drinking something
really sweet. Going for something sweet had become a habit that didn’t take any effort to go
along with, and now I have a tool that helps me make a conscious choice.
Free writing helps me find the still small voice, the one I ignore when I tell myself things like It’s
okay that he’s late… I don’t mind going last… I’ll finish writing my novel later… The more I use
the practice, the more awake I become to where I’ve given up my power.
At Dorrier Underwood we’ve also discovered that something shifts when we read our writing to
each other. We don’t do this every day. Sometimes we do this at the start of a retreat, everyone
writing from the same prompt, the theme glistening in all its perspectives the way a diamond
shimmers as it’s cut. Of course, people have the option to pass, and when someone reads,
regardless of how dangerous it feels, we learn something, we become closer, we know each other
more deeply. We hear ourselves in each other’s writing, and the distance between us diminishes.
Free writing invites us to squeeze the juice out of each minute, even if that minute scares the hell
out of us. It’s a practice that has us step out into a different kind of vulnerability, like standing on
a cliff and allowing the wind to sift through your hair, and feeling the whole world at your feet.