Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Journaling the Junk Out

Every morning for the past three years (give or take a handful of days when I was traveling or sick) I have written what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls Morning Pages. Julia says it best (and truthfully, I haven’t gone back to reread her description) but her basic point is that to free up your creative self, it’s essential to get the gunk out of your head each morning before going to work. By gunk, I mean whatever stuff is floating around in your mind—anxieties, snippets of dreams, a to-do list for the day ahead, stuff you’re upset or angry about, a dumb conversation you’re rehashing. Whatever. She suggests that you write three pages longhand. This is writing you’re never going to show anyone. You don’t even have to go back to read it yourself. I think she says you can seal it in an envelope if you want to. But once it’s down on paper—all that blather clogging up your brain—you can start to write, your creative juices truly flowing, nothing holding you back.

I’ll admit I was skeptical the first time I read this. But I tried it, because, what the hey. It’s writing. At first I treated my morning pages like a journal. The act brought me back to my teenage diary years and I found myself recording the stuff that had happened the day before. We had just moved to a new town. I didn’t know anyone. I had quit my day job. After a while there really wasn’t anything “happening” to write about. But I kept writing my morning pages. I took seriously what Julia said, and tried to empty out my head, not worrying about quality or even if I was making sense. Just warming up my fingers on the keyboard. (Here’s one rule I broke: I type my morning pages. Sorry, Julia, I’ve been typing forever—even when I was thirteen I used an old typewriter that dinged when it was time to slide the carriage back.)

A lot of what I wrote about that first year was how I didn’t think I could write. Or the worries I had about never being published. I think I’ve got pages and pages of boring conversations I had with our realtor (we had moved but still couldn’t sell our other house and it was killing me—this two-house ownership thing, and then the furnace broke in the other house and then it was spring and someone needed to mow the overgrown lawn three hours away—all silly and meaningless issues that at the time kept me up at night stressing). But here’s the thing: writing that stuff down did make a difference. Once it was out of my head and on the page, it really was gone. At least for that day. And I could focus on whatever project I was working on.

Lately my morning pages have become more of a book journal. I still start with the junk clogging up my brain, but most days I quickly move on to the scene I’m working on that day. What’s happening? What are the characters thinking? What problems am I having? This kind of journaling is how I discovered the worst plot hole of all time—one of those, what the heck was I thinking there?—kind of things. But writing it out, just putting the problem into words, must’ve helped my subconscious mind work on it. Within a few days I woke up with the answer blaring at me as if it had been there all along. And I wrote about that epiphany in my morning pages too.

I can’t ever imagine not writing them. First thing in the morning, before I read my emails and scroll through the inane news of the day, while I drink my coffee, I’m writing my morning pages. Today’s was a long rant about how every single one of the candidates I’d voted for yesterday lost. Except a bunch of judges who had no one running against them. But once I’d gotten that pathetic mess out of my head, I was able to jump into the latest scene of the novel I’m working on.

Looking for a way to get your creative juices going? Tomorrow morning, first thing, write your morning pages. And here’s another shout out for Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. A must read for the struggling writer-within

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