(Recently I started sharing my experience of morning pages and exercises from The Artists Way over on IG and the response was overwhelming in the best way! I'm starting a series of posts exploring the practices and ideas found in the book in more detail than I can in 15 second videos…But check those highlights for real time blabbing if that's your thing.)
Around two years ago, I started writing Morning Pages. Morning pages are a pretty popular creative practice, made famous in the book, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron.
'Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.'
Back then I was pretty desperate for any kind of creative outlet - running a business, mothering a small kid yet to start school and one already there, and all the other usual life stuff left me wantng. I was in dire need of space. Literal, metaphorical. As anyone with kids under, oh I don't know, 18? knows, HAHAHAHAHA good luck with that. But my repetitive searching, which probably went something like 'help I'm losing it my kid wants another snack how do I stop my mind from melting AAARRRHHHHHH', kept throwing up the same thing - morning pages. morning pages. morning pages. I would see articles that mentioned them, podcasts talking about it, other artists I admired explaining them. The universe was basically hurling an asteroid with a morning pages banner on it, at my face. I decided to listen.
Now look, I totally fancy myself as the kind of person who can wake half an hour before the rest of the house, wander to the kitchen in a kaftan and make some fancy kind of hot drink in an artisan mug before sitting at a big table, light streaming through the window then write for 3 pages before getting on with her day. But guys, I am not that person. The reality? I let the kids wake me at 8am, I don't bother brushing my hair, I shove toast into small mouths, forget to wash said mouths and then push us all out the door 45 minutes later to hurry up the hill praying we get to school before the bell rings. (I personally don't care about the bell because I'd rather stop to look at the sea, but my son hates to be late so on we scramble because love).
I know this about myself, and it's cool, it suits me. I love those extra minutes in bed, the morning is not my time! But I was so desperate for something, anything really, that I decided to try out the morning pages and shoot for that fancy version of myself instead. Sleep deprivation and all.
The good news is that for a while, for long enough to find a rhythm and make a commitment to myself and the practice, I stuck to waking up before the rest of the house. You know this advice right? This advice which tells us in a calm and reasonable tone that giving up 30 minutes of sleep to be productive instead of lie comatose, is the right thing to do? I HATE THAT ADVICE. But again, desperate times, desperate measures. Total honesty, I didn't stick to it every day, because life. But it became enough of a thing, an important thing, that I made way to make it fit in to my life. The pages became my place, very slowly, very surely. It was like therapy and meditation and a conversation with myself that I couldn't afford to miss.
Bad news? I still don't own the fancy kaftan from the vision, but I'm working on it.
All those months ago when starting, I didn't buy the famous book that the famous practice is from. Looking back I know why. I'm a bit of a 'I'll do it my own way' person at times (or stubborn af if you want to get technical), but mostly? I wasn't so comfortable with nurturing or caring for my inner artist back then. Sounds a bit woo right? But I was definitely stuck in something Julia Cameron refers to as 'the virtue trap'. As per the book:
THE VIRTUE TRAP An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency. Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is. For an artist, withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. If such deprivation continues, our artist becomes sullen, depressed, hostile. We eventually became like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone and stop making unreasonable demands.”
The virtue trap extends to denying ourselves all kinds of things beyond time and space, and in my case it was denial of the book itself. For you it could be myriad things - a course, new pencils, a chat with a mentor about that project. I recognized this as a pattern which had slowly taken over since having children, and was/is of course for various reasons both connected and unconnected to that. I can, btw, only see this in myself and tell you about it now because reader; I BOUGHT THE DAMN BOOK.
Now this first post is really about the practice of pages (I'll post more about the book over the next few weeks) but I have to mention it because I can see now how having the book would have made my journey with the pages so much easier. Don't get me wrong, the core of this practice is you, the notebook and pen, but the book is a support system. It guides and helps you make sense of what is happening, and at a basic level, gives you shit to write about. If you've started pages without the book and are regularly getting stuck filling 3 pages, buy the book pronto.
Back to the pages. So many people responded to my stories with variations of 'I want to but how'. So here is my outline of how to start along with a few tips I learnt along the way:
1) Find a quiet space where you won't be interrupted for a while.
This one is hard, but vital. And I get it. Especially for the parents among us laughing and crying at me right now. But I have to be a bit of a dick and refer you back to the getting up early advice. I'M SORRY. I KNOW. DON'T HATE ME. I had a few people message to say that with small kids the idea of giving up sleep for this was just no, but I'm desperate so?? Look, all I can say here is that when I started, my desperation outweighed those 20 minutes of sleep. You might not be there yet and that is ok. The under 5 years don't last forever and the pages will always be there waiting. Work out what you most need in this moment, and what you're willing to sacrifice for it. Be kind to yourself if this isn't for you right now.
2) Write a stream of consciousness for 3 pages. No more, no less.
Piece of piss right? Notes on this - this is isn't a novel. This is not for consumption by anyone. It is not meant to be 'good writing'. It is not meant to be entertaining. I remembered recently an excellent Simon Amstell sketch when he talks about his therapist saying to him 'you know you don't have to be funny here right?' and his whole world is thrown off course because he literally doesn't understand the concept. Well that therapist is your pages and they're saying the same thing. Your pages are a big old brain dump. If these were my pages I was writing instead of this post I'd write something like ' Wow this bra I'm wearing is really uncomfortable and it's because this bloody lockdown has made me even more fed up of all the washing, hence the comfortable ones being unwashed. Plus it's tight because I now eat more biscuits because the worls is ending? and I can't believe I'm even worried about my biscuit intake during a global pandemic but here we are I guess this is who I am and that feels kinds of sucky. Also? I hate writing this today - not in the mood'. In the early days, my pages had a lot of 'this is hard I hate this' repeat forever. That's cool, you'll get over it.
3) do not read back your pages.
This is linked to the idea that this ain't art and also isn't for consumption. I don't know if you've noticed this about artists, but we bloody love to judge, especially ourselves! Fave pastime 5 stars would recommend! By removing your own critical eyes from the 'work', you're freeing up and dislodging something that needs to be removed. Even now, I rarely read back my pages. Sometimes I will for reference, and sometimes as I'm writing I'll know there is an idea or realization, like a golden nugget that I'll pull out and polish, then expand on in some way, some place else.
4) Give it time.
For me, it took a good 18 months to really move through some of the difficulties I initially had. The biggest thing I had to overcome was something I call 'the other' - the idea that at some point, these pages would be judged or consumed by someone else. I wanted to entertain this other, I wanted to dazzle and get fancy and use long words. I was Simon Amstell at his therapy session. And it was really hard work to let that go. But, and I cannot stress this enough, OMFG the relief when I realised I had said goodbye to this performative aspect of writing in that notebook? Life changing. Because not only is the other an idea I hold in my pages, it's an idea I hold in my art generally. This is how the pages work - the works leaves the page and it slowly seeps into all aspects of your life. And yeah, that was 18 months of work for me but if i'd been following the book and had a more dedicated practice in the beginning I would have gotten there quicker. But I did what I could do, and you'll do the same. And it really comes back to give it time.
Other notes: get a new notebook. We all like shiny shit right? And the feeling of something a little special adds to wanting to do the thing. Chuck in a fancy pen and you're 50% of the way there. If you miss a day or 5? Don't beat yourself up. Return when you can. Seek out others who have done this and can relate/hold you accountable/bitch with you. The idea of a supportive circle is a part of the book, and I can see how having others around who actually get it would be a massive bonus. (I still don't actually know anyone who does this practice? so yeah, hit me up and I'll be your buddy).
I'm going to share more about the book and some of the practices within it over the next few weeks - if you have questions or stuff you want to share with me, hit me up here or on IG.