Marijke McCandless - How to Cultivate Write Now Mind Using Freewriting Techniques to Improve Your Nonfiction

Event Date: August 24, 2022 | Time: 10AM PT / 1PM ET

Join us as Marijke McCandless speaks on the topic: How to Cultivate Write Now Mind: Using Freewriting Techniques to Improve Your Nonfiction. Also, access her accompanying blog post on this subject here.

About Marijke McCandless

Marijke McCandless is an award-winning author and long-time awareness practitioner. Her recipe for enlivenment? Listen. Play. Write. She leads a popular online writing practice called Write Now Mind and awareness practice sessions called Juicy Practices for Getting Present plus other immersion experiences in meditation, writing, and enlivenment.

Join us here on August 24, 2022 at 10AM PT / 1PM ET

Watch the live broadcast on our Facebook page or on our YouTube Channel, or catch the recording later. See you there!



In this episode…

  • A writing mindset versus commitment.
  • How to use a two word prompt to kickstart your freewriting practice.
  • The rules of freewriting.
  • Using your freewriting practice to find your voice as an author.
  • Three freewriting prompts for listeners.


Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Marijke McCandless and we will be talking about Cultivating “Write Now” Mind – Using freewriting techniques to improve everything about your nonfiction writing.

I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find recordings on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube.

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And now I’d like to introduce our guest.

Carla King

Hi, Marijke. Welcome to the podcast.

Marijke McCandless  01:57
Hi, Carla, So good to be here.

Carla King  02:21
Yeah, I bet you always have to spell your name, don’t you?

Marijke McCandless  02:23
Always, always.

Carla King  02:25
Always, always. So glad to have you with us, because, you know, freewriting is so much fun, and it can be very freeing. How long have you been doing this? When did you discover this productivity practice?

Marijke McCandless  02:43
I mean, I learned it over 25 years ago. I don’t know how many of your readers are familiar with Natalie Goldberg. But Natalie Goldberg–she’s sort of the freewriting pioneer. And her book Writing Down The Bones really enlivened, in me, a different way to write a flow-style of writing. You know, at the time, I was in corporate settings, I had freelance paralegal business, I was very logical and discursive in my writing, and this was something else altogether. It really taught me who I was as a writer.

Carla King  03:21
You know, I remember picking up that book. And even when I was traveling and writing, I had this tiny little pocket book; it’s very thick. And I used to use it all the time, but I dropped it. So I’m really glad you’re on, because I think I’m gonna start doing that again. And I’ve tried it in the recent past, but I have a hard time just getting in the mindset. So do you have any tips or tricks about how to get in that mindset? Is there a place, a time? Are there any rules about it?

Marijke McCandless  03:56
I think that’s a really interesting question. Because, in a way, what you have to do is let go of the concept of mindset. And instead replace it with just a simple decision to make a commitment. And the commitment should be very modest, like 10 minutes a week. ‘I’m simply going to try to do this 10 minutes a week. Monday at eight o’clock, I’m going to freewrite for 10 minutes.’ And it’s a little bit different from Morning Pages; like Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way–a lot of people do Morning Pages. Fantastic practice, by the way. This is a little different because you use a very simple prompt—two words—and it’s usually like ‘I feel,’ or ‘I notice,’ or ‘I want,’ and those two little words are enough to drive different things to bubble up from you. But I talk a little bit more about that at the end, because there’s a way you can come up with your own prompt, too.

Carla King  05:07
This morning, my words would be, ‘I want to make my plumbing problems go away.’ Does that work? I mean, what do you do?

Marijke McCandless  05:14

Totally. That’s kind of the beauty of freewriting is–What I like to think of as freewriting is–it reveals your inner leanings. So typically, whatever you have burning questions about will come out in your freewriting, because there’s no editor. There’s no thinking about what you’re going to write. There are rules.
So the rules are–set a timer–when you’re doing it on your own, I would actually set it for three to five minutes to start. When we do it in a group, we set a timer for 10, we individually each set a timer for 10 minutes. But the rules are, keep your hand moving, be specific-so not, ‘I feel frustrated, but sweat is pouring down my head, I’ve got,’ you know, ‘armpit stains from dealing with this,’ whatever, you know. Lose control, and don’t think. And the main one is really just keep your hand moving. And what it’s going to require of you when you start, is to go ahead and write out the inner critic that’s going to come in probably right away. You’re going to say whatever–’I want my plumbing crisis to be over,’ and 30 seconds is going to be up and you’re going to have nothing more to say about it. So then you say, ‘I have nothing more to say, I don’t know what to write, because I’m done thinking about that.’ And you just keep writing all those things out. And inevitably, there will be a natural pause, and you’ll say something like, ‘Wonder how my mom’s doing today.’ Whatever other, sort of, either an inner leaning, or a universal challenge that’s personal for you right then, might come up. So you know, often what comes up in free writing is things about relationships, or career decisions, or experiencing loss.

Carla King 07:32
Yeah. And, you know, you said, what, three to five minutes? If you’re doing it on your own? And maybe 10, if you’re doing it with a group. You know, can you really get any useful writing done here? This might just be something that you don’t want to do, actually. Is it a good warm up? I mean, what happens? Do you think themes emerge?

Marijke McCandless 07:59
Totally. When I host a workshop, and we do it as a group, we usually start with three minutes. Really, you just write for three minutes. And I suggest three minutes because it’s really hard to say to yourself, ‘I don’t have three minutes available.’ Certainly I have three minutes available.

When I do it through my online Write Now Mind, the instruction is to write for 10 minutes. It’s harder, it’s much harder. Almost always people will run out of things to say, and that’s where it gets interesting. That’s where we push through what we think we want to say where our control is, to the taboo subject we don’t want to talk about, or whatever. So I can’t tell you how–so even a practice that’s 10 minutes a week–I have hundreds of people who’ve written me saying, ‘This has changed my life. This has changed my ability to write.’ If you’re a discursive writer, it’s not quite as directly a productivity tool.

You’re not going to do your freewriting, and come out with the perfect paragraph to insert in your legal brief, or whatever, you know, or your how to book. But what it’s teaching you is what your voice sounds like when it’s flowing; when it’s not interrupted by the inner critic, and it teaches you what you naturally want to talk about. So for many, many years, I thought the first book that I wanted to write was going to be about coaching, being a paralegal for personal and family law–coaching people through divorce. And I had a beautiful title for the book and everything, and the words simply–they weren’t flowing. I was adequate at doing it. Turns out, that’s not really what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about my own personal struggle that came out later.

But yes, it will absolutely improve your writing, I have no question about it. It’s not direct. I’ll say it one other way. It’s like, if you’re a professional rock climber, and you go jogging, you know, three or four times a week. You do it because it’s endurance. And it’s practice, it’s physical fitness practice. Freewriting practice is like that. It’s non judgmental writing flow. And it really helps.

Carla King 10:54
That’s so helpful. Because I mean, our inner critic is always there, maybe especially for what you call discursive writing projects, or prescriptive nonfiction, which are how to books and professional books, as opposed to creative nonfiction, memoirs and essays. Yeah, and I know–we just came off a writing critique group, it was a two month long one, and I did notice that it seemed like the first paragraphs of many of the writer’s works, whether they were chapters or essays, were very stilted. You could see the inner critic, you know, editing them to sound like a professional, you know, expert. They really wanted to come off as an expert. When they got down to it, like paragraph three or four, you did start seeing a voice start happening. So I almost feel like it wasn’t a free writing exercise, but it was a warm up. How does that differ? How do those two things differ?

Marijke McCandless 12:13
Well, in a way, I think it’s a little bit similar. It would be like, what you notice was that people were a little stilted when they started. Their voices, their inner critic was telling them, ‘Okay, you need to do a good job, sound like an expert, choose the right words,’ you know, and as they just got into the writing flow, maybe it came out a little more naturally. So if you wanted to practice just being in a writing flow, then you do free writing, because there’s no rules. All you’re doing is writing. I like to say it befriends the writer inside–freewriting befriends yourself. And to really deliver a message, you need to be comfortable in your own skin, you need to not be worrying about if you sound like an expert, but rather, just sharing what you know. And it just greases the wheels.

Carla King 13:14
I love that–sharing what you know–which is what we’re doing, whether we’re writing memoir or prescriptive nonfiction. And we’ve been writing these things possibly because we’ve been asked about them, about this topic, whether it’s our life or whether it’s, you know, how to get a divorce and do all the legal stuff—what you were saying. So, I’d like to talk about themes, because when I write, I think of a theme, I think about exactly what I want to express or explore. Is that shooting myself in the foot? Is that at all helpful? Or should I just put all the themes out of my mind and see what emerges?

Marijke McCandless 14:00
I mean, I think it’s nice to contemplate what themes you want to write about–where you know your expertise is–that’s very natural for writing an essay. But it’s interesting to see what burning questions kind of naturally come out. And those will come out when you freewrite. So for instance–okay, so I was really good at writing about paralegaling. But what my inner burning question was–but when I wrote about it, there wasn’t a lot of juice, you know. There was competence, which is great. But I wanted to reach—I don’t know, but when I thought about, ‘What’s my inner burning question?’ Which is something more like, ‘Who am I’ or ‘What am I,’ you know, almost more, kind of, spiritual question or something like that.

Carla King  15:03
That’s a great prompt–’Who am I?’ Answer this question. That would stop me for a while. I don’t know if I could keep my pen moving on that.

Marijke McCandless  15:12
I do that one sometimes as a prompt–it is a really great prompt.

Carla King  15:16
Oh, great, awesome.

Marijke McCandless  15:17
It’s probably the very first prompt I ever did. And it’s fascinating to watch it change. Because usually we identify who we are first as our roles. And it becomes you know, ‘I’m a mother, I’m a,’ whatever, ‘I’m a paralegal.’ But what I saw was that I was interested in something more essential to the spirit, I guess. So, in other words, do I have to figure out what I’m going to say before I say it? Or can I see what comes out? And for me, it became a more interesting process. Well, I mean, I had to do both, but to see what wanted to come forth.

So, for instance, in the last Write Now Mind class, everybody has the same prompt. Let’s say the prompt is, ‘I forgive.’ So, one person might take that and spend the whole time forgiving themselves. Another person might revisit a moment with their mom, when something went awry, and they weren’t sure, you know. Another person might, you know, think about the whole concept of forgiveness on the world scene. So what’s interesting–what’s going on inside you that you haven’t maybe given voice to? And as far as how that translates–again, it comes down to, ‘Oh, this is really a big theme in my life–relationship with my mom, or world politics, or my relationship, my self care rituals,’ or whatever. But also, how I describe it.

Even prescriptive books–the author’s have a voice, you know. Are they formal? Are they friendly? Is there, you know, and you need to be in touch with that,  even when you write that kind of book? What’s your voice? And that will come out in free writing? Are you a lyrical writer? Are you staccato? You know. And there’s all kinds of rules about how writing should be, ‘Oh, you should have some long sentences and some short sentences,’ and, you know, some lyrical ones, and some, you know, to the point ones. But what happens if you let all the rules go, and you just see what your natural voice sounds like?

Carla King  17:55
It’s almost like having a conversation with a trusted friend. And sometimes we are our own worst enemies, right? All that judging comes out?

Marijke McCandless  18:04
Yes, absolutely. That comes out in free writing a lot, too. And invariably, people start by, whatever, blaming themselves for something or feeling bad about something. But then by the end of 10 minutes, they’re kind of like, ‘Actually I’m not that bad,’ you know. They come back to self care.

Carla King 18:28
When we’re talking about nonfiction, we’re often trying to be the big expert. And it’s hard to say, ‘I don’t know,’ when people are asking you, you know, for advice. But ‘I don’t know,’ is sometimes the best answer. And I don’t know how I got on that. But I just kind of feel like maybe freewriting would help me with that, you know, that, ‘I don’t know,’ and explore. I love that the term essay means, ‘to try,’ in French, right?

Marijke McCandless 19:00

Carla King  19:01
I know, isn’t it? Yeah, we use it as a verb. You know, ‘I’ll essay a play,’ you know, ‘I’ll essay a game of poker.’ Right? I love that term. And I always try to think of that when I’m writing. Instead of, ‘Okay, I’ll try,’ instead of, ‘I’ll direct’ or, ‘I’ll explain it all.’

Marijke McCandless  19:01

Carla King  19:28
And I wanted to ask also about technique. You were saying the writing flow, you know, and are you talking about a pen or can we use a computer?

Marijke McCandless  19:39
I use a computer now, I used to always do longhand, and I used to swear that longhand was the only way to do it, because I felt sort of like, ‘Oh no, this is totally part of it.’ But, I don’t know, I just don’t feel that way anymore. I think both are fine. You can start with one and see if it feels better. And I just do it on the computer. I don’t think it matters. It doesn’t matter anymore. To me, anyway.

Carla King  20:08
Do you ever use the Pomodoro Method?

Marijke McCandless  20:11
What’s that? I’m not familiar.

Carla King  20:13
The Pomodoro Method-it’s a little tomato timer. I think it’s 20 minutes, right?

Marijke McCandless  20:21
I always set a timer. Always. You don’t ever do it without it’s like, yeah.

Carla King  20:28
Make yourself sit in the chair and write, you know, for three to five minutes or ten minutes.

Marijke McCandless  20:34
Totally, totally. And it’s powerful if you have someone else give you the prompt, because all you have to decide is when you’re sitting down. So, there’s two ways of doing this. If someone else is providing you with a prompt, you say, ‘Okay, my ten minutes or my three minutes,’ or whatever the rule is, ‘is right now.’ You sit down, you set the timer, look at the prompt and then start writing. Otherwise, the tendency is to look at the prompt and think about it for the whole next week. Right. So when I was first doing freewriting, I was flying a lot, I was traveling for business a lot. And I would use the exact same prompt every single time. And the setting was boring, it was inside the interior of a plane.

But I would use the prompt, ‘Right now I notice.’ And then I would set the timer and I would write what I noticed. And what is fascinating about doing that is a whole other benefit for freewriting. Because you need to–one of the things, one of the rules is–be specific. So you have to start noticing more subtle things, not like, ‘Okay, I’m sitting in a plane and there’s,’ you know, ’10 heads in front of me, and there’s two blondes and a brown. But wow, look at how the air conditioning wisps that one hair around that woman’s face. And she’s so sweet with her child in her lap.’ And, ‘Oh my gosh, I miss when I was a mom of a small child.’ And, ‘Oh, remember that time when the child did…’ And you just let it go. You lose control. But I only had the same setting and the same prompt. So you have to be very present to what is unfolding in this unique moment. Even though our brain will tell us it’s boring.

Carla King  22:40
Let’s do this. Why don’t we take three prompts right now and challenge our listeners to–after this episode ends–sit down, unless you’re driving. You know, sit down in your seat, and use one of these prompts to do three to five minutes. What do you think?

Marijke McCandless  23:05
Beautiful. I love the idea. Yeah, I’d love feedback. And I would use–the first prompt being, ‘Right now I notice…’ That’s a good one because you can’t pre-plan it, right? I’d like to use–the second one I think might be good is, ‘I feel.’ And I’d like to encourage people to go to physical feelings, as well as emotional feelings. You may be drawn to go one place or another. But don’t forget to include both. ‘I feel,’ you know, ‘My right foot is resting on a metal bar of this chair. It’s getting a little bit sore,’ you know, that kind of thing. Also, ‘I feel so excited inside to be here. I feel enlivened. I feel happy.’

Carla King  24:08
I feel frustrated because of my plumbing issues.

Marijke McCandless  24:12
Yeah, Carla.

Carla King  24:14
I notice my plumbing issues. It’s like–I just need to get that out of my head, you know. Sometimes it’s head clearing, right?

Marijke McCandless  24:23
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Carla King  24:25
Okay so let’s look—’Right now I notice…’, ‘I feel’, what do you think for nonfiction writers? We can go three to five.

Marijke McCandless  24:36
Three to five minutes or three to five prompts?

Carla King  24:39
Prompts-we can start with three.

Marijke McCandless  24:41

Let’s do it – I’m gonna give them a dual one. So they can choose either or both. And it’s going to be, ‘I want, I don’t want…’

Carla King  24:54
Okay, ‘I want,’ or ‘I don’t want.’

Marijke McCandless  24:59
You can write them both. Yeah.

Carla King  25:02
Excellent. Okay. Yeah, I’m excited about this. Because as I say, you know, I haven’t really done it for a long time. I do tend to sit in my seat. I don’t feel like I get writer’s block anymore, which is nice. But then again, I don’t feel like I do enough of this exploratory writing, right? I’m either working on my memoir, or I’m working on my how-to book or my classes or something.

Marijke McCandless  25:37
Yeah, I want to make a comment also about nonfiction writers. We’re nonfiction writers, because we love the truth. But we can be–our own conditioning can color that truth. So another thing that freewriting does is, it releases authenticity. It allows us to, I don’t know, to not know everything, even while we’re an expert in a field. And that is actually the truth. So, if you want to be a nonfiction writer, you have to play with your own messy, not-knowing interior as well. Then authenticity comes through.

Carla King  26:31
Thank you. Yes, right through until you get there. Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe we’re almost out of time. And I know you have a lot more to offer on your website. So if you could tell us your website, and your programs, and how to find you on socials and all that, we’d love to hear that.

Marijke McCandless  26:48
The easiest way is just to go to my website. So it’s my first name and my last So it’s And all my social media links are on there, scroll to the bottom, you can subscribe if you want. There’s a tab that says books so that you can go to the tab and read about them. I wrote a book under a pseudonym, a memoir. So that book is on there. My new and upcoming book I don’t have a pub date yet, but it’s called Naked In The Now: Juicy Practices for Getting Present. It will include writing practices for you writers out there.

Carla King  27:44
Very good, very good.

Marijke McCandless  27:50
I was just gonna say Write Now Mind is a tab on my website. You can just send me an email. I love to meet people.

Carla King  27:57
And I love your ‘Listen, Play, Write,’ and you have four bullets there—befriend yourself, be kind to others, say yes to life, and cultivate right now mind, and in both senses of the word. Well, thank you so much Marijke, for being our guest today.

Marijke McCandless  28:16
Thanks, Carla. Can’t wait to hear all about your plumbing issues and how you felt.

Carla King  28:21
Haha. I’ll write it out. Okay. I might not publish it, though!

And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at

Quotes from our guest…

“In a way, what you have to do is let go of the concept of mindset. And instead, replace it with just a simple decision to make a commitment.”

“What [freewriting] is teaching you is what your voice sounds like when it’s flowing; when it’s not interrupted by the inner critic, and it teaches you what you naturally want to talk about.”

“It’s like, if you’re a professional rock climber, and you go jogging, you know, three or four times a week. You do it because it’s endurance. And it’s practice, it’s physical fitness practice. Freewriting practice is like that. It’s non judgmental writing flow. And it really helps.”

“To really deliver a message, you need to be comfortable in your own skin, you need to not be worrying about if you sound like an expert, but rather, just sharing what you know.”

“What’s going on inside you that you haven’t maybe given voice to?”

“We’re nonfiction writers, because we love the truth… our own conditioning can color that truth. So another thing that freewriting does is it releases authenticity.”

“If you want to be a nonfiction writer, you have to play with your own, messy not-knowing interior as well. Then authenticity comes through.”

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