About those "morning pages" from The Artist's Way

105053-1623036-thumbnail.jpgRemarkable! Three whole pages, written in longhand, at the beginning of my day. This morning, having no initial intention of writing in this manner, I took myself out onto the deck with a notebook, a substandard pen (looking for the right pen is one of the many distracting side-adventures my scattered brain would have taken me off on, and I was not having it,) and my coffee. And even though every paragraph or two I found myself thinking, "Wow. This is a lot. Maybe I should stop and get back to my computer and get some actual work done, so I can get paid, since writing 3 longhand pages is decidedly not a task I can charge anyone for!" I pushed through the resistance and wrote my pages. Completing these pages felt like one of the most important achievements of the past weeks. Which surprised me a bit.

It was wholly unexpected that I would remember, The Artist's Way today and this book's recommendation that we sit still every morning and write until we have filled three entire pages. From an online Q&A section, this practice is explained a bit in this way:

The morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand morning writing. You should think of them not as "art" but as an active form of meditation for Westerners. In the morning pages we declare to the world—and ourselves—what we like, what we dislike, what we wish, what we hope, what we regret, and what we plan. 

Recalling now the time when I regularly wrote in this manner, I remember, too, the impact such writing had. Writing in this manner somehow allowed me to calm my mind and get all the gibberish out before I moved on to the "must do" tasks on my list. Having floundered excessively in my focus as of late, I'm choosing to think of this as something that could get me on track.

In retrospect, I realize it's possible I've recalled this book because of Dena Harris's recent mention of writing 3 pages in the morning. Although I'm pretty sure she's shared that she follows this practice, I'm not going to wade through her blog or her website to find the evidence. I'll simply tell you I'm pretty sure she does some of this too and Dena's level of achievement is something I very much admire, and so I'm happy to admit her own process may have offered a kernel of my own inspiration.

This is a book I discovered years ago when I wasn't yet comfortable thinking of myself as an artist. I'd love to tell you that I worked through the entire 12 week program offered in the book, and completed all the exercises outlined within. Telling you that, however, would be a lie and so I'll tell you instead what my experience of this book did do for me. It introduced me to concepts that allowed me to know that my creative process was okay, that I didn't have to follow a prescribed set of steps or educational paths, and that in spite of the fact that I cannot pick up a brush and paint for you a glorious landscape or a miraculous portrait, my drive to create is unique and wholly mine. The time I spent with this book provided me with a settling confidence that creativity is to be honored and nurtured and that acknowledging the drive to create is integral to who I am as a person.

According to the book's Editorial Review at Amazon:

With the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan lead you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity. 

I don't know, first-hand whether this book would have guided me along to such lofty heights or not. What I do know is that while I was actively writing 3 pages every morning, and sometimes taking myself on "artists dates," I learned to hear my creative voice and value it for what it was. What's most interesting about this to me, in hindsight, is that those of us who are nurtured and allowed to express ourselves creatively still sometimes need additional tools. Both my parents have always, always encouraged their children to express ourselves. Whether creatively or academically or professionally, I have never once been told that I couldn't do something. On the other hand, there are many conversations in my mental history in which the people who gave me life told me, very candidly, "You can absolutely do that if it's what you want to do," and "There is no reason you couldn't achieve that if you want it," and "I don't know why that would be out of your reach.  You have the capability to do this if you decide to go for it."

I've always valued this encouragement and now more than ever realize that my parents' unconditional acceptance of my abilities aren't as common as I once thought. Upon reflection this morning, a few things come to mind:

  • Regardless of how much encouragement my parents offered, my life was influenced by many forces outside their reach - and rightly so - and with that diverse set of influences came the competing message that perhaps I wasn't as capable as they'd suggested. Apparently that competing message took hold alongside their encouragement.
  • It's less relevant to me now that I took my time coming to the awareness of my abilities and talents, and more relevant that I am now on the path toward creating the life I want.
  • I will always need tools and reminders to coax me along the way to those things I want. Remembering this book, today, has been an important reminder. Taking the time to write The Morning Pages was a gift I gave myself.

Something a discerning reader will have observed, perhaps, in the encouraging messages I shared earlier, is the caveat: "if that's what you want." Perhaps my parents were more tuned in, than I, to the idea that I had yet to find my way, that it was clear I was always exploring, and once I was able to solidly articulate these elusive goals of mine, only then would I be able to achieve them.

Therein lies the crux of all that has taken me off-path. My process has been the least linear of any I know, and my arrival at the understanding of even some of the things I now know I want from my life has been "a long time comin'," as they say. 

So what's all this saying to me this morning? Well, first it's saying that apparently three little old longhand pages weren't enough, which is a honkin' surprise, given my struggle to reach the end. But it's also saying that perhaps the recollection of this book and its offering of this seemingly simple exercise was a greater gift than I realized when I sat out there and put my pen to paper. I think I'm gonna' try it again (and again,) and see where it leads...