I’ve been reading a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron since January 1st, 2018. It’s a twelve week course about recovering your creativity, and you will likely hear me talk a lot about it. My copy of the book is the 25th anniversary edition so it’s been around a while, and in my opinion, it’s the real deal.
One of the major points and most important practices that Cameron introduces in The Artist’s Way is morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of long hand stream of consciousness writing every day, preferably first thing in the morning. The idea is to get it all out; all the chatter, the fear, the negative self-talk, the drama, get it all out of your head and onto paper. Make space for creative thoughts to exist and thrive. The book goes deeper than this, but this is step one and, I think, where the most radical change happens.
Nine weeks into the course, I have done my morning pages (MPs for short) almost every day. They have become a ritual for me. At first when I thought I could never wake up before my fourth alarm, I was doing them in the evening or during my lunch break. Then I set up a studio space in the corner of our home office and I would wake up thirty minutes early and write there. Then I got a puppy and any possibility of me sleeping past 5:30-6am dissolved into thin air, so here I am, with plenty of time to write and reflect.
Some days my MPs are boring–like when I write about how many days straight it’s rained or how I ate pizza again last night. Some days they’re insightful and full of hope and some days they’re down right petulant and all I write is three pages of how much I don’t want to be writing three pages. Yesterday, I wrote on this site because I couldn’t go to my MPs one more day and complain about not having time to write here, and then I did my MPs. Every morning I show up at the page and write something for three pages.
Some things the MPs have given me, a list:
- Perspective and distance. One of my least favorite qualities about myself is that I arrive pretty quickly to feelings of anger, frustration, and annoyance. I don’t want to be an angry person, I don’t think I’m an angry person, and yet, there I found myself, angry again. The MPs have let me rant and rave and then usually after a couple of lines (because anger, like a fire without fuel, can rarely sustain itself once out in the world) I arrive at empathy, understanding, and truth.
- An excellent bullshit detector. How many times do we make up some partial truth or outright delusional lie to justify our action or, more likely, inaction? These aren’t hurtful lies, in fact they rarely even see the light of day. These are lies and half-truths I tell myself. When they’re out on paper in black and white, it’s really, really easy to say, “that is just flat out not true.” The MPs are for me and me only, so really, who am I lying to? Who am I trying to protect? Who am I putting on a good show for? Myself. And that, my friends, is crazy.
- A space for radical honesty. I think the opposite of bullshit is radical honesty, which can be terrifying. The MPs are a safe place for me to practice this. I counter excuses and lies with truth and only truth, even if it makes me look, feel, or sound awful. I think all of the lies and half-truths we tell ourselves to make us feel better are a breeding ground for shame and if you’ve ever read Brene Brown, you know that shame cannot live in the light. So by being radically honest even when it’s uncomfortable, I can accurately assess what’s really going on. Spoiler alert, it’s always fear.
- Affirmations. You may be thinking, “so do you just beat yourself up for three pages every morning? That sounds awful and I won’t participate.” No. But like most things that are scary, you have to get through the uncomfortable parts before you get to the fun. Once it’s all on the page, I can affirm myself of the things I know to be true (among other things): that I am creative, that creativity is abundant, that I try my best and that the fear I feel is a part of me but is not welcome at the table. It’s funny, I’ll spend a couple of days working through something hard or sad or shameful, arrive at the truth, and then rarely ever go back to it. It’s like it lives there, on those pages, and that’s where it will stay.
- Gratitude. Here’s one thing I know to be true, and Oprah will back me up here so you know it’s good: Gratitude is the path to happiness. If I find myself at a loss for words or like this is all a major waste of time when I could be sleeping, I’ll start listing things for which I’m truly grateful, and it is magic. It’s an instant mood changer. You cannot be unhappy when you are actively listing things that you currently have that make you happy. It’s the antidote for comparison, for jealousy, for intimidating thoughts of grandeur that make you paralyzed from the start, for discontent.
I have three more chapters/weeks in this book, and I can tell you that it works. I’m here in this space because of it (hi!). Once finished, I will continue my MPs because they’re powerful. It’s a practice that requires absolutely nothing–my mom writes her MPs on loose-leaf notebook paper–except for a spare 30 minutes and some bravery. I’d encourage you to try for a week and see what comes up and out. Be kind and gentle to yourself, and expect change.