Cure Writer's Block by Using Free Association

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Free-association. As a psychological technique that has the ability to unlock the unconscious and make individuals aware of core thoughts, conflicts and ideas, it also can be used for a writer to tap into creativeness and jump over the hurdle of writer’s block.

Originally derived by Sigmund Freud out of the hypnotic method of his mentor and coworker Josef Breuer, the technique was used in psychology to get patients to talk about a series of memories or topics, no matter how embarrassing or irrelevant, until they would stumble across crucial memories that were forgotten. Unfortunately, Freud found that it failed to recover repressed memories.

“If a person talks without censoring themselves, certain key psychological issues emerge that are causing them to stress,” says psychologist Anthony Tasso, Ph.D.

Combine Freud’s technique to reveal unconscious thoughts with no sense of connection to each other with writers block and you have a cure! Just taking a pen to a paper or fingers to a keyboard and writing or typing can bring up some of the best gold nugget ideas that you would have never thought. With little planned out thinking, you can release an idea that you didn’t know you had. From poems to relieving stress to coming up with ideas to write about, free-association is a great tool for writers.

“Free-association potentially has a legitimate place in writer’s block,” says Tasso, a practicing clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology and counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “There could be many factors, but if writers just start typing it could help them access their own internal creativeness. The person can be more free as a writer.”

As a writer it is important to add spunk and craft to the writing, this is what makes each piece different from another. Free-association is a good tool to release this spunk and allow a writer to get in touch with their inner creative side. It can’t make a bad writer good, but it can help a good writer expand their horizons.

“There is a long history of applying psychoanalytical thinking to the arts,” says Tasso. “The more a person can be aware of the unconscious the more they can be creative and be aware of what drives them. It can make them more open in their writing.”

However, can this tool translate to a more thought out work like a novel? Can a work with a need for a laid out development be entirely free-associated? For a novel there are certain elements that need to be thought out, planned and developed, like characters, conflicts and resolutions. So, it seems like a ludicrous idea that something so well laid out could be entirely not thought about and entirely from the unconscious. Is there a limit to the technique of free association?


Watch this free association cure!

As a writer myself, I say there is a limit to using free association for a longer work. I believe free association can work with a general idea or a particular knot in a book, but not for a whole novel.

However, I would love to prove myself wrong, so I have decided to experiment with it. I call this my work in progress. It is something I work on in my extra free time where I just sit down and write without thinking of the types of characters I am creating. I even avoided naming the characters so I don't get caught up. All I knew when starting this piece out was I wanted to create a mystery/suspense story.

Here’s what I have so far…

Soft steps wander down a beaten path as the sun just begins to peak out of the horizon. The delicate crimson rays splash over a silent lush suburban neighborhood. It is the perfect time, early enough that not a single being is around and late enough where the warm sun begins to show its face. An engine roars to life in the distance and red lights amongst the ruby sky signal that the day is about to start and soon the calm neighborhood will become a bustling community center.

This lively area is something that she both hates and loves. She cringes at the idea that people are around nosing into everything and she craves to be alone. But that same lonesome desire is what compels her to be near people, to pry into their lives so that they are part of hers.

And as she meanders down that worn out path to start another routine day she observes the golden rays that have just stunned her baby blue eyes and she picks up the crisp newspaper. She begins to peruse through it, glancing mostly at the headlines. As she is absorbed in the black text about the world’s many crises’ she manages to stumble in her doorway and make it to her kitchen table. Just as she was about to set the paper down and give in to the grumbles of her stomach a headline caught her eye.

“Child Found After Enduring Week of Searching”

A vivid image surfaced in her mind of that long week that lay behind her. The horrid memories of an innocent child being abducted and abused haunted her and a shiver went down her spine. That chill turned into relief as she realized that it was over with, finally.One more child saved, one more glimmer of hope for humanity.

However, she also couldn’t ignore the increasing nagging sense that the child’s’ abductor still walks as a free man; all because of a technicality. She sighed and set the paper harshly down and continued with her morning routine. However, the chirp of her cell phone rudely stopped her in mid-footstep towards her coffee, informing her that the world will not wait for her to eat. So she answered the irate call.

“Where are you?” said the chief calmly.

“It’s 7:00 in the morning where do you think I am?” she replied.

“I need you to be at the docks now, you will see when you get here,” said the chief.

Great. Just what she wanted to hear. I mean doesn’t she deserve a few days break?



As she arrived at the scene, with coffee in hand, her sharp gaze scrutinized the chaos trying to make sense of it. As she stood there, an overwhelming feeling of uncomfortable-ness overcame her. She felt a presence and as she glanced over her shoulder, she found the source.

Her dazzling blue eyes met a surprisingly stunning set of mud-brown eyes.

The absence of police, crime scene detectives and medical staff didn’t jolt her senses until this moment. Warning bells began to swell her head and her mind scrambled to move her limbs, but they were very uncooperative. Tiny pricks surfaced to her skin eventually numbing her entire body, and that is when the man glided confidently forward.

She meant to move back, for she was now swelling with fear and panic; however her muscles seemed to not be working. And silence lingered in the air, waiting to break at the first rash movement. Just as she thought he was going to raise his olive skinned hand to her soft face, blackness arrived behind her eyes, followed by a disturbing thud.


The light stunned her bright sapphire eyes as they groggily fluttered open. Thoughts of confusion flooded her head; the panic rapidly rising as her senses became more aware. Dazedly, she sat up glancing around the room, here breathing becoming heavier and heavier by the second.

Her gaze became more rushed as she tried to place the images she was seeing with a place she knew. She came up empty. Instead she found herself to be in a lonely, dark, cobbled room with a harsh, cold cement floor. There was seemingly no exit or entrance and this frightened her beyond belief. Thoughts begin to form in her mind; who would do this and why would they want to capture her? What enemies have come lurking out of their dark corners of hell for her? Where was she? Would anybody come looking for her?


So, looking back at this piece I would reflect free-association has worked out for me in the sense of expanding my creativeness. My question to myself is can this work for the rest of the piece? That is something I will have to continue to explore.

What do you think of free association? Has it helped you? And what types of works has it helped you on; short, medium or long pieces?

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Comments 26 comments

Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

I think Freud is one of the most influential thinkers of all time. I appreciate your referring to Freud. Your story is inspiring.


mariefontaine profile image

mariefontaine 5 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

voted up, useful and interesting. This is the technique I use to some extent to overcome writers block as well. I start with one word, and then make a list of anywhere from 25 to 100 words that just flow from word association. The list of words then becomes my word bank, and I challenge myself to write a piece of poetry using every word in the list. It's fun sometimes to come up with something that includes words like jack o'lantern and panties all in the same piece of poetry... you have to get very creative and utilize imagery and metaphoric content to the utmost... thanks for writing this hub.


jandee profile image

jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Well done. Enjoyed the read.

I have so many characters waiting for help to save them .Wonder what their fate will be ? Maybe this is a little nudge for me to return to my stories !

Thank you Kimberly,

best from jandee


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois

We used to do this in one of my English classes in college. The first ten minutes or so of each class we would just write about anything that came to our head. There was no prompt, just whatever popped out. I really enjoyed it, and was always surprised at what I came up with.


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 5 years ago from New Jersey Author

I'm so glad you all have enjoyed or participated in free association in some way! I find it has been helpful to me in many ways. Sometimes it is just better to write and keep writing and not worry about all the technicalities until later. Thank you for your comments.


manthy profile image

manthy 5 years ago from Alabama,USA

Thanks Kimberly - I have bookmarked this hub and will refer back to it when needed.

I think it is great that you share things like this to help others ;0)

Voted up and awesome


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 5 years ago from New Jersey Author

@manthy- Thank you very much! I'm thrilled to see you enjoyed my hub. It is important to grow as a writer and part of growing means overcoming those times when you can't seem to put thoughts on to paper. Tapping into the unconscious mind can in a way "set you free" and help overcome that!


merchantdoctor profile image

merchantdoctor 5 years ago from Reno

Thanks Kimberly! I needed that. Great article and video very useful. I am off to write now!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

...this is an essential hall of fame hub subject and must be posted now and immediately to my FACEBOOK page with a direct link back here.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

...oh my my ....I feel better now that I did that.

And yes the epi man has no fear of writer's block because he ad libs like a mad fool that he is - most of my funny ones are written up in about 20 minutes and all based on ad-libs so I know all about free word association - but you write here with a world class authority and an assured expertise which is both enlightening and education but you do so in such an entertaining way too .... so nice to meet you - and yes your smile could end all of the wars in this world - which will be my next idea for a hub - watch for it by tomorrow - and now , that's ad-lib .......for you.

lake erie time ontario canada 3:09am


ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 5 years ago from Lagos

A great idea for writers. I agree with you. Wonderful!


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 5 years ago from New Jersey Author

@merchantdoctor--I'm glad that you found my article useful.... Now write unstoppable without thinking!

@ epigramman--love your comments (and thank you for posting it to your facebook!). I will look out for your humorous ad libs!

@ ubanichijioke--Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and hope that you will be able to be inspired to free-associate in your writing!


pharmacist profile image

pharmacist 5 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

Very interesting article. Maybe because I only write for fun, and in my spare time, writer's block has not been a real problem yet. However, the idea of releasing greater creativity in writing through this method is something I am going to try. Thank you!


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 5 years ago from New Jersey Author

@ pharmacist— Thank you for your comment! I think this is a great way to expand the mind and really stretch your imagination and subconscious.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

I think the idea of free association is a great one! You never really know what is in the back of your mind until you stop thinking so hard and just "go with the flow". Excellent hub. Your writing is wonderful! Thank you for SHARING. Have a wonderful day! :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Sometimes I get ideas for my writing when I am awakening from a dream or just laying in bed for a few moments before starting my day. I guess that is free association at its best...not forced thought, but just absorbing what comes of its own volition.

I liked your story! It certainly captivated my interest and I would like to read more.

Voted useful and will share with my followers.


JamesPoppell profile image

JamesPoppell 4 years ago

What a great hub! I have never tried free association, but I am so impressed with this hub that I am definitely motivated to give it a try. I enjoyed the video also. Furthermore, your writing style (the example you gave us) is awesome. Well, as she said in the video, I am going to go scribble now. Vote up for interesting and useful. I am also sending this out via twitter. Thanks!


Jessi10 profile image

Jessi10 4 years ago from Lancaster, CA

Very interesting Hub! I love the topic, and how you explained it!! I suffer from writers block quite often, I find this Hub very useful! The worst thing about writers block is when I actually get a great idea, and i'm ready to write, as soon as I start, the idea is gone! Talk about bad luck! It takes me a while to get the idea, and when I do, the layout for my article is in shambles. This just makes me want to take a break! LOL

Amazing hub! VOTED UP, useful and much more!!


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 4 years ago from New Jersey Author

Thank you for all you comments and sharing! I am glad you enjoyed my article.

@sgBrown- Going with the flow is sometimes all you can do in life so why not do the same with writing!

@Peggy W- That happened to me this morning! I was thinking about a story that I am writing and had put on hold because I don't know how to start it and it just hit me while lying in bed this morning.

@JamesPoppell- I'm glad you enjoyed the article. You should definitely try free association.

@Jessi10- I am no stranger to writer's block either! Sometimes you think too hard about how to start it and how to write it, you just get caught up in that. Free association can help expand your thoughts and creativity!


Turtlewoman profile image

Turtlewoman 4 years ago from California

Hi Kimberly,

This is interesting...never heard of the technique of free association. Then again, I am new at writing creatively. I think I've been having writer's block all my life! Great article!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

This is brilliant, Kimberly. I rarely struggle with writers block as my mind wanders and slits in a creative mode anyway!! However, free association is a technique I have used both myself and for teaching writing exercises. Great use of example and underpinned by solid psychological principles. Well done!


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 4 years ago from New Jersey Author

@ Turtlewoman Glad you like it! Sometimes you just need a spark to get going and you don't realize what that spark is until you let go of thinking so hard!

@Docmo Thanks! I'm glad you use this technique!


BethDW 4 years ago

Awesome writing tip! I get writer's block ALL THE TIME! Voted up and useful :)


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I have used free association to write a poem and was amazed with what resulted. When you don't let your pen drop or your mind start to over-think you can certainly get over writer's block. Great advice and tips for anyone who has had a bit of a blank mind :)


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

You have some good people following you; I'm glad we finally came together.

Writer's block? Honestly, I haven't had it yet in two years. I simply don't have enough time for all of my ideas. I love free association, and it has worked for me in the past. I have found my best ideas come to me first thing in the morning, and I'm talking about just after waking up. My mind seems to be more receptive when it is still a bit sleepy.

Anyway, you are a good writer and I'm happy being here.


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 4 years ago from New Jersey Author

@ChristyWrites... I am glad you enjoyed the article!

Thank you Bill, I'm glad I was able to read a few of your articles as well!

It is interesting your best ideas come to you in the morning — imagination and creative juices must be gushing then! My best ideas usually come in the middle of the night, when all is quiet, I guess less distractions then for me!

Thank you for your kind words!

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