Automatic writing

From Academic Kids

For an article about surrealist Automatic writing go to surrealist automatism.

Automatic writing is the process of writing something, that does not come from the consciousness. The hand writes the message by itself, and the person has no idea what it is going to write. It is sometimes done in a state of trance. Other times the writer will be awake, but won't be able to feel his hand.


How is it done?

The writer takes a pencil in hand, places it against a piece of paper as if about to write something, then proceedes to watch television, read a book, talk with somebody, etc. For a large percentage of people, the hand will start to write something.

Often, the writing will not be legible. But for some people, words, sentences or whole paragraphs will appear later. The message can be signed by different names and have different handwriting. The person often feels that another personality is writing the message.

Case stories

Somewhere before 1900, William Stainton Moses, a respected priest and teacher, experimented with automatic writing. He had a very Orthodox Christian belief, but the messages from the writing took a more open, undogmatic view, which he "converted" to over time. He believed the message originated from higher spirits.

Rosemary Brown was an English house wife who was able to perform automatic music composing. She could play the piano, though not very well. She believed that great composers were writing through her.

Use in religious movements

Automatic writing has been used in Spiritualism and the New Age movement as a form of channeling. One of the most famous automatic writers was Hélène Smith, an early 20th century psychic who claimed that her automatic writing was actually the attempt of Martians to communicate with Earth. She claimed she could translate their Martian language into French.

Use in therapy

Automatic writing is used as a tool in Freudian psychology and in related "self knowledge" studies, where it is seen as a means of gaining insight into the mind of the automatic writer through their subconscious word choices. It was primarily used by Pierre Janet in France, and later by Morton Prince and by Anita Mühl in the United States.


Skeptics believe that automatic writing claimed to be of supernatural origins is nothing more than a parlor game. They claim, as with other paranormal phenomena, that the subconscious of those performing the writing is the only thing influencing their actions and that there is no solid evidence that any messages are coming from anywhere other than the minds of the person holding the pencil. This is referred to as the ideomotor effect.

To many skeptics, the use of automatic writing in therapy is suspect as well. While unconscious ideas are expressed in automatic writing, it is unlikely that they are any more profound than one's own consciousness. Skeptics argue that there is no evidence that the true self lies in the unconscious any more than it does in normal consciousness. Automatic writing may enhance personal growth only if it is evaluated properly and understood for what it is.

Use in stimulating creativity

The ideas of Hélène Smith greatly influenced the Surrealist movement. The Surrealists dubbed her "The Muse of Automatic Writing"; in the surrealist deck of cards, Smith is the "Genius of Knowledge." André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement, pioneered its use within the movement and produced several important pieces of automatic writing, most famously, Soluble Fish. Automatic writing became a major part of the Surrealist's repertoire of games, and it soon developed into a number of other surrealist games and tools that greatly influenced the movement, such as automatic drawing, automatic palimpsest, and a variety of marker-word games. (See surrealist automatism.)

Free writing latterly gained popularity with writers and poets, both as a means of stimulating creative thought and as a technique for overcoming writer's block.


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