My writing group, Writers’ Mastermind, Has started the creativity enhancement program designed by author Julia Cameron, called The Artist’s Way. The program is really a twelve week course, but do to most group members’ busy schedules, our wonderful admin decided we would stretch the program out over the course of the next twelve months. Great idea. I’d taken a peak at all the end-of-chapter assignments, and there’s quite a lot of them. More than the modern day person would want to cram into their schedule each week.
I got a digital copy of the 25th anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way. The book is a little dated, because she mentions things like record stores and books on tape. And does Five & Dime even still exist? However, being dated doesn’t make the helpful words of positive wisdom and tips on how to improve your creativity any less relevant. I read the Forward, the Introduction, and the first chapter, and they were all very inspiring.
One of the main topics she talked about in the first chapter was getting in the habit of doing a little thing called morning pages. You find an empty notebook for this exercise, and treat it kind of like a diary by not letting anyone read it. Don’t even let yourself read it until later on in the course when reading back on what you’d written is part of an assignment. Cameron says to wake up a half hour earlier than when you usually start your day, and write three pages of whatever, in longhand. It doesn’t matter what it is. As long as your hand can keep up with transcribing all that your brain craps out, write it down. It’s not exactly a daily journal, but it could be if daily journaling thoughts are what pop in your head before anything else.
Don’t put conscientious thought into what you write either. If it comes out like a bunch of A D D sounding disconnected thoughts, if it’s a boring list of the day’s mundane tasks, if it’s a bunch of winy, repetitious rambling, don’t pay any mind. Just keep going. What comes out on paper comes out on paper. Even if you go on and on about how you don’t know what to write, and you hate mornings, and this assignment is stupid. This exercise is for boosting your creative brain power. Not for practicing writing skills. So as you write your morning pages, DO NOT read back at what you’d written, and start fixing punctuation and spelling mistakes and stuff.
Morning pages are to help clear your head at the beginning of your day, so your mind could make room for new ideas and creative inspirations. Cameron also calls it, “the brain drain”.
The book mentioned people she knew who she had gotten into the morning pages habit. Not only had they learned to clear their heads of excessive useless thoughts for better creative focus, their minds became more easily cleansed of worries, anxieties, rumination’s, and other mental blockages of concentration, allowing their creativity to flow more quickly and easily. New ideas unexpectedly came out onto the morning pages. The author herself even experienced this. One morning while doing her morning pages, a story idea just popped out on its own. Then her morning pages blossomed into the rough draft of a manuscript.
I admit, I came close to skipping out on this part of the course and just doing the assignments featured at the end of each chapter. It just wasn’t working out at first.
Waking up a half hour earlier was the first problem. I mean, who wants to do that? Good thing I get up early anyway, but alarm clocks make me anxious. Scheduling things in time slots make me anxious. Scheduling to-dos within big, hours’ long windows of time is okay, but only during the day.
One thing that sucks about being middle aged is both falling asleep and staying asleep takes patience. So nightly sleep needs a bigger, more relaxing time window. I go to bed at 10:00, and the iphone alarm clock was originally set for 6:30. Eight-and-a-half hours was plenty of time to gather up a full night’s rest after waiting about an hour to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, and then struggling to fall back asleep after each time I got up to pee. Even though I would always wake up a half hour or an hour before the alarm went off, setting it ahead to 6:00 shortened the time window and made me anxious. If I got up to pee later than 4:30, it was impossible to relax and fall back asleep, just knowing that the alarm was going to go off a half hour earlier. Not looking at the clock and not knowing exactly how much time is left makes me even more anxious. The unsettling anticipation of being interrupted at any moment kicks in. Then came the anxious, rambling thoughts, which kept me even more wide awake. Maybe I should just get up now and start the morning pages. No, if I get up now, that would only leave me with a few hours of sleep, and what if it catches up with me later on when I’m trying to work on book 3. I hate when I’m trying to write and can’t stop yawning. And I end up taking a nap like an old lady, which leads to only getting a few hundred words done, and not getting enough writing done in a day feels like shit. I hope I don’t take a year-and-a-half to write this book, like with book 2. Sleep, stupid body, sleep dammet. Seriously?! It’s 5:35? I’ve been laying here for an hour already? Why, God, why!
Then there was the worry that adding another to-do in my daily schedule might take too much time away from my precious book 3. Every day, there’s reading, writing, and social media to do. Now I also have health shit to keep up with. Then top it all off by adding time for morning pages? In the past, I’d learned the hard way that the less additional things there are to tackle during the day, the better my mind could concentrate on the next adventure on Planet Velva Leena. So I thought doing the morning pages might be more of a hinderance than being anything helpful.
Last of all, I can’t write longhand. There’s barely much vision left in the old, disfigured, ocular orb. I thought of typing the morning pages into a Pages doc on my Mac Book, but was iffy about that idea. Even though this isn’t really a journal, it’s still a lot like one. I didn’t trust myself with writing entries. In the past, every time I tried starting some kind of daily journal on the computer, I’d have too much fun writing the entries. Then hours would unintentionally fly by, and it wouldn’t be long before journal writing took up too much of the day, leaving not enough time for real writing.
I thought of writing the morning pages in braille. I have three junky old braillers to write with and tons of unused braille paper. However, the clickety-clacking of their keys is so loud, the sound carries through the whole house. I didn’t want to give my parents such a rude awakening at 6:00 in the morning.
So I decided to dictate the morning pages into my phone’s Notes app. Anyone who uses voiceover and doesn’t have a Bluetooth keyboard would know that typing three pages on a touch screen manually would be mental. You have to one-finger double-tap each and every character and space. What I liked about the Notes app was that any type of journaling could be easy to organize, making each daily entry a new note which the app already adds the date for you.
Doing the morning pages this way worked out great for two mornings.
Dictating is quicker and easier than typing, but I’m a writer, not a talker. Telling the phone my thoughts felt weird and uncomfortable. The writing process was also slowed down because voiceover reads back every single thing you dictate. Then there was the issue with the way sound carries through the house. It’s not just my loud-ass braillers. The house’s interior walls might as well be hologram projections that only appear to look solid. I hated the thought of my parents hearing me talking to my phone in gibberish, first thing in the morning. Kind of embarrassing.
My last resort was to just give the computer a chance. Wow, did it work so much better than I’d expected. Since this is not a regular journal, and the key is to write without putting conscientious thought into what you’re going to say and how you want to say it and caring about whether it makes sense, the thoughts came spilling out effortlessly.
Yeah, the change from dictating to typing temporarily gave it a new feel, which threw my concentration off at first. I began writing about how I don’t know what to write. Then the first few disconnected thoughts came. Once I released them into the text, I was able to let the mind relax, and release all thoughts like relieving a full bladder. I’m an extremely slow typer when conscientiously thinking about what I’m writing, but take that restriction away, and my hands went crazy dancing all over the keyboard, like a couple of epileptic spiders.
I set two morning alarms, limiting myself to one hour of brain draining. For the past few days since switching this exercise to the computer, I’ve been typing more than the scheduled hour, but only by twenty or thirty minutes. This quazi-journaling didn’t turn out to be a time management garbage disposal like I’d thought it would. Amazingly, each session of morning pages really does induce a strange but calming feeling of mental relief. It’s like the brain really needs to get all that excess thought cloggage out. Like a cerebral detox. It’s pretty awesome. I would recommend this mental exercise for anyone and everyone. Not just those who are, or who aspire to be creative.
So far, adding morning pages into the daily routine hasn’t put a damper on my book 3 WIP. Maybe it’s been helping with my writing.
The way morning pages calms my mind helps calm my mood. I no longer get so anxious if I wake up less than two hours before the alarm goes off. Sometimes I can fall back asleep, but if I can’t, knowing that my morning starts with a mental exercise that helps put my anxiety-prone mind at rest puts the insomniac side of my mind at rest too. If sleep doesn’t return before 5:30, I just get up and start the thought dumping and not worry about whether or not if I’ll get tired later on. When this happened, so far, I hadn’t needed a nap yet. It seems that helping calm the mind early in the day helps prevent mental and physical tiredness at an inconvenient time. Or maybe this one effect is more on the psychosomatic side, and I feel more awake and alert all day, because this winter cold front has been making my room get freezing-ass-cold.
This part of the morning routine just started a few days ago. So no unexpected ideas or inspirations came popping out yet, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens after doing the daily brain drain for another month.
…And that concludes my first inner adventure into the magical world of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
Love you all! Post you soon!