The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, September 15, 2006

Writing by the Dawn's Early Light

by Melissa Bell

Well over a decade ago, the book The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, was an enormous hit. Raise your hand if it's on your bookshelf. It was on mine, but I went and loaned it out to an acquaintance (a minister!) and he never returned it. Bugger.

Anyway, when I was cleaning out one of the too-many things that need de-cluttering around my house, I discovered an enormous stack of old notebooks filled with "morning pages" I'd written over the span of about three years.

For the uninitiated, writing one's "morning pages" every day was one of the backbones of The Artist's Way and the key to Creative Enlightenment™. Every morning, before you even rolled out of bed, you were supposed to grab a pen and a notebook (or haul your still-sleep-groggy ass to your computer – me, I didn't own a computer at the time) and write three solid pages of anything. It didn’t matter what. In fact the whole exercise was solidly geared toward not thinking at all about what you wrote. Just fill up the space. Three pages. Just throw it all down, close the book or shut the file, and then carry on with your morning routine.

I'm not a morning person. It meant getting up half an hour earlier than I wanted to in order to write them. And more often than not it was a struggle not to just hit the snooze button for the fifth time and say "the hell with it". But those notebooks are evidence that I didn't do that. Almost every day, and for a not-insignificant period of time, I found the strength to prop myself up into a semi-upright position in bed and scrawl three single-spaced pages of writing in my preferred Mead Five Star college-ruled 8-1/2" x 11" notebook before I even wrapped my head around what day of the week it was.

I had kept diaries and journals before, but these morning pages were different. I waxed on/waxed off with the former, making an entry when I felt like it (usually when depressed or angry), and, more often than not, felt embarrassed and guilty over the emotional self-indulgence and self-absorption upon re-reading said entries at a later date. Not so with the MPs. Mostly because they accumulated so rapidly and were written with such haste that I never bothered to ever go back and really look at them. That is until this past week.

I was shocked that I'd written so much stuff. And you know what? It really didn't suck. I mean it's not stuff that I'd ever show to anyone – great heavens! no! But there are so many things in there that I had completely forgotten about. Things that were so important at the time I decided to fill up space by writing about them. Obsessions. Lost dreams. Crummy past jobs. But also moments when I was truly happy. The kind of happy that, were it not for the MPs, I never would have bothered to write about otherwise because I would usually be too busy being happy. Does that make sense?

They were difficult to revisit. There is a strange shame I find myself trying to come to terms with when I think about all that mindless writing I did. I can't articulate it. That day of organizational good intentions I only spent about 45 minutes skimming over all that handwriting – handwriting that wasn't so scribbly as one might imagine given the time of day it was produced – and then I put the notebooks back where I had found them, and went and watched some god-knows-whatever on TV. At least I'm pretty sure that's what I did.

But one of these days, I'll go back and look at them some more – probably sooner rather than later. The notebooks aren't labeled by date (stupid me), so I'm going to have to plod through each one and try to put them in some sort of chronological order.

Because I am truly curious about two things: When did I stop writing those three pages a day? And why?


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I tried journal writing on several occasions(long ago) and could never get past the first awkward entry. That you were able to fill these notebooks is amazing to me. Hope you find some useful stuff!

Fri Sep 15, 08:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Heh, this made me chuckle. I never did do The Artist's Way, but I have Drawing on the Artist Within thanks to a friend who forgot she loaned it to me maybe 10 years ago, but I could only keep it up for about 4 months. Some interesting stuff came out of that though.

Fri Sep 15, 01:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean about journals - all bad news! Great post, Mel. Good for you for having the courage to sift through all that writing.

Fri Sep 15, 02:45:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Gurus are still recommending this type of free-asociation writing, whether in the morning or some other time. Give yourself 10 minutes or even an hour to write with the internal editor shut off. I've tried it from time to time but either I'm too lazy to make a habit of it or too afraid of what might come out.

Fri Sep 15, 05:03:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have that book on the shelf - I think. I vaguely recall, "Jump and the net shall appear." I never had your discipline, but what a gift; a daily journal. Diane

Fri Sep 15, 10:03:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger happy said...

keep it
Food that heals

Sat Sep 16, 02:20:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I did morning pages for about three mornings! I think it's an excellent idea- we need to gain control of our internal critic so that we can turn him/her on and off at will. It's a very good strategy for writers. I think NationalNovelWritingMonth (Nanowrimo) encourages the same free flowing non-critical wordfest to a different end.

Sat Sep 16, 10:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

I know this book well - a friend of mine is currently doing the Mp's.

Anything that makes you write everyday is a great thing - I've not been much of a journaller (if that's a word) - but when I write fiction every day, I find I start to pour my life experience, both past and ongoing, into my stories.

thanks for this Mel, an interesting tie-in to my sleepy post

Mon Sep 18, 01:50:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm probably way off, but i suspect that my own subconscious (and maybe yours?) tries to marginalize the importance of my non-revenue-generating activity, what with my heaps of beautiful student loans to pay off. i tried the freefall writing approach for a while too, and found that i'd feel guilty that i wasn't writing a pile of steaming scat for whatever review or weekly was throwing $50 at me to do so. then i'd get to thinking about why i dropped out of engineering, and why i'm not a lawyer or a salesman, and then i'd take a big hit off my special pipe and return to playins SimCity for the SNES until I got sleepy. -bp

Mon Sep 18, 02:01:00 pm GMT-4  

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