Happy New Year and Morning Pages

Happy New Year! Hopefully I’ll be posting more regularly in 2014. I’ve had some other writing projects going on, and I committed to twelve weeks of Morning Pages as Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artist’s Way. I learned of this book years ago and read it but never committed to the program. Since I have hopeless perfectionistic tendencies, I decided to do what I could manage and not set out to do the entire program as she lays it out in the book. I think the activities are great and I’ve known many people who attest to unlocking their creativity by following the book and perhaps I’ll try some of her other suggestions in the future, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing for me now.

For those of you who may not be familiar with The Artist’s Way, the morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness, no-editing writing first thing upon waking. This is supposed to be your “brain drain” and the idea is that getting this out will free up your brain space and unleash blocked or dormant creativity.

I really like the book, and I would suggest it to anyone who may need some motivation in any artistic field. It’s not just for writers but for all types of artists.

When I don’t have the time to put into my writing that I would like or if I just feel like the words and ideas are not flowing, one of my strategies is to read books about writing. I also try to read more in general if I’m not writing as much, but I do my best to read like a writer, which for me means that instead of reading and getting lost in a story, I examine how the writer does certain things. For example, if it’s a fiction book, I might look at the plot and try to see how the writer goes about setting up the story. I need to do more of this. Writing character comes more naturally to me, but often plot is more difficult.

I pick the books on writing randomly, but back in September I realized that I needed to be less perfectionistic with my writing and simply get words down on the page. The Artist’s Way has lots of suggestions and activities, so it seemed like exactly what I needed, particularly the morning pages. After a month of writing three pages daily, my words began flowing more effortlessly.

I began on September 27, and I finished up just after Christmas.

I wasn’t perfect, but I’m okay with that since perfection is rarely my goal anymore.

For the first three weeks I followed Cameron’s instructions as closely as possible. I wrote in a notebook with a pen in the morning, but it was not always as soon as woke up. My kids have to be at school by 7:50, and Gil drops them off on his way to work, so they usually leave no later than 7:30. It’s worth mentioning here that neither Gil nor I are morning people.

I would love to get up and moving no later than 6am every day, but honestly this rarely happens. I try to have everything ready before bed — clothes laid out, backpacks checked, lunches prepared, and whatever else might be pertinent for the day, but often it simply does not happen and the closer we got to holiday break, the less any night prep was done. A closer scenario is I hit snooze until 6:45, scram frantically getting everyone dressed, planners signed, lunches packed (lately I’ve skipped this step entirely and my kids have eaten at school), throw some cheese, fruit, lunchmeat at the kids for breakfast as we’re strapping them into the car. I try to at least smile cheerfully as everyone heads out the door.

Once the house was quiet, I would grab my coffee and notebook and write immediately. There were a couple of times where it was the first thing I did before the morning scramble started, but that was about it, and honestly I couldn’t tell much of a difference, though Julia Cameron is adamant about writing as soon as you wake up.

But again, my mantra has to be progress NOT perfection.

After three weeks I felt like I was getting nowhere with the longhand. It felt unnatural, and since I was also doing some other writing stuff, I noticed that my flow felt tremendously better when I was typing, so I made the decision to start doing my morning pages on the computer rather than the pen and paper method.

On October 21, I began typing my morning pages and storing them in a file on my computer. I searched around online and found various information that others had written describing their own experiences with The Artist’s Way. I even found recommended word counts, since apparently others also prefer typing. I decided to shoot for 850 typed words.

I immediately noticed a difference once I started typing. It just felt more natural. Because I was no longer worrying about finding a comfortable pen or taking breaks when my hand began cramping, I was getting the morning pages done quicker and it felt more like Cameron described them — “brain drain.”

I averaged five to six times a week. Because of this, I went a little longer than twelve weeks. Again, I have to recognize that I managed to stick with this for three months. I can’t focus on the fact that I didn’t follow the instructions to a tee.

When I was about two months in, I was pretty much failing at getting the morning pages done in the morning. In fact, there were more than a few times that I forgot about them altogether and would only remember when I climbed into bed at night. My reminder would be my red notebook, all lonely and neglected on my night stand. So, I’d open it and write again in longhand. I suppose these were night pages. I even begin documenting the time of day at the top of the page.

I probably chose the most difficult time to start the habit of morning pages. We went on vacation as a family for a week, which as thankful as I am that we actually were able to go away this year, my experience with these is that they are flat-out exhausting. We also had Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas crammed into these three months — super busy times with young children.

All in all, I enjoyed the morning pages, and I think doing them helped me as a writer.

Cameron describes in the book different people’s reactions. Apparently, plenty of folks loathe them. My feelings were relatively neutral. I struggled with not editing myself, but I didn’t have a problem getting the words down, and I found it a bit freeing to write without paying close attention to grammar and punctuation. I think it also gave me more confidence in myself as a writer. Yes, I forget various grammar rules and have to look them up, but that’s okay.

Towards the end, around the ninth week, is when Cameron suggests that you read your morning pages. She forbids (okay, highly discourages) it until that point. I was pleasantly surprised at how coherent I sounded once I was allowed to read back through my writing.

I have some serious OCD tendencies. My anxiety manifests in this way and I tend to check, recheck, stress if I can’t recheck various things in my life. I’m relentless when I write, and I have turned down some cool opportunities for this reason. I’m slow, and I’m terrified of turning in something that is not perfect. I hate admitting this on my blog because I KNOW I have plenty of errors on here. This is one of the many reasons that I keep this platform anonymous. It’s one place where I don’t feel like I have to be perfect. A lot of this stems from being the daughter of an old-school English teacher. I can not stand for my mother to read anything I write. I don’t even like sending her emails for this reason.

Speaking of my mom, the kids and I are supposed to be on our way to her house, plus this post is dragging on even though I have WAY more to say.

My next post will be about where I plan to go with these morning pages now that I’ve completed my twelve week trial.

I also plan to do a 2013 recap and a 2014 forecast soon, or something like that. I’m looking forward to the new year, and one of my goals is to be a more active blogger.

Thanks to all who stick with me here. I know I’m random and sporadic, but I enjoy this space and truly appreciate my readers.

I wish you all peace, love, and joy in 2014!

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8 thoughts on “Happy New Year and Morning Pages

  1. Pingback: Page not found | Grief Happens

    • Thanks. It was a good discipline I suppose. It kept me writing at a time when I probably would have done nothing writing-wise. It also gave me an excuse to retreat to my room away from the chaos of maleness.

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  2. Sheesh! I’m exhausted just reading this post! I admire your determination, and during the most stressful times. I did The Artist’s Way once years ago, I remember I was writing daily then. Much harder to do (in some ways) are the exercises Cameron also teaches.

    Sending you thoughts of kindness in the new year.

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    • Well, honestly it wasn’t that bad, but I completely botched NaNoWriMo. I’m impressed that you did all the other exercises. I didn’t think the morning pages were that difficult, but I didn’t find them overly helpful either. Maybe it’s because I don’t struggle with writer’s block as much as I do wrapping up projects and seeing them to completion. I’m still trying to decide where to go with the morning pages in the future. Maybe I’ll attempt some of the other exercises.

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      • If you don’t have writer’s block (lucky you) I don’t know if the exercises would be useful. I found them to be challenging and a bit like self-help therapy. I’m almost ready to go through the Artist’s Way again. I have the sequel, but can’t put my hands on it. You have encouraged me to give the sequel a try soon.

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        • Great! I want to do more of the exercises. I love all the ideas, but I also know myself well enough to know how frustrated I get when I can’t get everything done. The morning pages seemed manageable but now I’m not sure where to go with them. I’m interested to hear how it goes for you. It sounds like the time might be right for you. This is crucial for me.

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