Sunday, January 25, 2015

Morning pages? Epic fail, but new experiment coming

While I was laid up in a cast after Achilles tendon surgery the past two months, I decided to give Julia Cameron's morning pages a try, subjecting the fabled advice on creativity to a 30-day experiment. And for me at least, morning pages were a flop.

I make this declaration even though I enjoyed writing them every morning, and even though I felt they had some benefit. But they didn't achieve what I thought was their purpose—not just to unlock one's creativity in some vague and general sense, but rather to fuel a new burst of tangible, concrete productivity. This they did not do, not for me.

Now one can argue that I have misunderstood the raison d'ĂȘtre of morning pages, especially since, like the woman who wrote this  sardonic blog post on "recovering" from The Artist's Way , I stubbornly refused to actually read any of Cameron's books. Instead, I relied on the instructions I found on Cameron's blog.

Perhaps Cameron never intended for morning pages to be as utilitarian as I wanted them to be. Maybe they are designed to be more like a routine tune-up for the creative spirit—something to lubricate the valves, clean the sludge out of the carburetor, and get the engine ready to run without worrying about whether the car ever leaves the driveway. But what I was hoping for was something that would actually propel me down the road, so I could rack up some real mileage on the odometer. And that didn't happen.

I did look forward to writing my 700 words—which is how I translated Cameron's prescription that one must complete three pages of longhand writing each day. For reasons that I explained in my previous blog post, I refused to do this by hand as Cameron prescribes. But I did do my pages first thing every morning, and yes, I did feel that it helped reconnect me each day to my identity as a writer.  Certainly, that's a good thing.

But I still think they should be called morning purges, not pages. Because at the risk of being crude, they felt like the psychological equivalent of a visit to the bathroom, clearing one's self of all the emotional crap clogging up the works, making one lighter and freeing up the headspace to sit down to the day's work.

In other words, morning pages to me seem like nothing more esoteric or special than daily journaling. Period. End of sentence. And I was already doing that on a daily basis for the past eleven years, though at night rather than in the morning. And yes, it can be helpful. But it's a psychological/emotional/spiritual exercise, not a specifically creative one.

It's not what I need. This brought me back to freewriting, which I became familiar with via Natalie Goldberg's writings, though she wasn't the first to suggest them either. Dorothea Brande advised something similar in her 1932 classic, Becoming A Writer.

And apparently Jack Kerouac mentions something like the technique as well in his "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose."

Jack Kerouac
But freewriting isn't necessarily aimed at helping you produce more useable prose at the end of the day's work either, and that's what I am looking for.  Freewriting is like a key to switch on the ignition, when what I want is to get out of the garage and make it down the highway to the state line by sunset. 
So I'm playing around in my mind with a tiny spark of an idea, an adaptation of freewriting, one that has a more specific goal: to get my literary jalopy a certain number of miles down the road during each writing session.  I'm not sure what to call it yet, and I'm not sure exactly what form it will take. But words like target, focus, specific, result, productivity, and useability are going to be key, I think.

Stay tuned for my next blog post to see what form this will take.