I have been doing ‘morning pages’ for nearly seven years now. That’s three A4 stream-of-consciousness pages that I write first thing in the morning. It was an ex-girlfriend who introduced me to the concept: she gave me a secondhand copy of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by renowned writer, Julia Cameron, when I was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. Cameron advocates the completion of morning pages everday no matter what. And I thought, ‘what the hell…’
What you write in your morning pages doesn’t have to be literary. It doesn’t even have to be anything to do with creative writing. It can be anything that comes into your head: a general moan-fest, your dream from last night, all the things you need to do in the day ahead… And anyone can do them: you don’t even have to be a writer, you just have to be interested in bolstering your own artistic ability. There are a couple of basic rules to the practise though: morning pages have to be written by hand (never typed), and no-one else should ever read them, not even yourself for at least eight weeks. (And I, personally, recommend that no-one should ever do what I did and collect forty-odd journals filled with your semi-conscious ramblings to revise on a rainy day).
Ironically, my ex later resented the time that I was spending doing the exercises in the book. These included going for daily twenty minute walks on my own, a weekly ‘artist date’ (which is basically an hour or so spent in solitude doing something playful such as feeding ducks in the park, taking photographs (sometimes of ducks) or reading random picture books from the children’s section in a book store)). The relationship (unsurprisingly) didn’t last, but it was certainly a learning curve. And I graduated to reading Cameron’s ‘Letters To A Young Artist’ and ‘The Right To Write’ and ‘Walking Through This World’. In February this year, I even went to a two-day seminar in London led by the creativity guru herself; and now, I’m working through ‘Vein Of Gold’, which is fascinating and inspiring but often very challenging.
Like a runner who has to put in the miles, these morning pages are both necessary for me as a writer, and incredibly addictive; I feel restless and unsatisfied and borderline depressed whenever I don’t get them done. Of course, no-one’s perfect and, there are days when I’ve skipped them or when I’ve had to take my notepad and do them on the bus or the train (or the waiting room at the airport at five AM); and if my girlfriend brings me a tasty breakfast in bed there really is no contest. At least, I’m pretty sure Ms Cameron wouldn’t mind me taking an extra ten minutes out, occasionally, in the name of love. Plus, I’ve learnt from personal experience that being too pedantic can only stave off creativity even more.
I’m not saying morning pages have suddenly solved all my problems. But sometimes – especially when I’m writing as fast as I can with no interruptions – I’ll get an idea for a story, or the name of a character will pop into my head. Mostly, though, it’s everyday inconveniences that are highlighted: I’m annoyed because I’ve not sorted my filing cabinet yet, or because I haven’t received a piece of mail that was supposed to come last week. And I’ll write about these very mundane things over and over until finally I bore myself into doing something about them…
Just now the time is 8:35 AM and I’m still in my pyjamas, drinking a Lemsip and looking at an Amazon listing for Dorothea Brande’s 1934 creative handbook ‘Becoming A Writer’; I read somewhere that she used a technique called ‘early morning writing’ and this has piqued my interest.
Very soon I will get up and get dressed. And when I do I’m going for my morning walk. It will probably be another ten or twelve hours before I get around to typing up and posting this blog entry; because first of all I’ll chop and change it and then I’ll get sidetracked and scribble down ideas for other random stories; or I’ll hoover or sort that filing cabinet or check my mail, before going off on some sporadic mid-morning-time adventure…