Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, says that every morning as soon as you wake up you should write three pages longhand, without stopping, paying no attention to grammar, spelling, and especially not to content. The point of Morning Pages, or MPs, is to suspend judgment so that your subconscious, normally guarded by that fearsome dragon, the Internal Critic, can disgorge its treasures. After you have filled three pages, you are free to get to work (possibly after some coffee and a shower) on the real thing.
I did MPs when I first read the book in the early 90s, then stopped. But lately I have resumed, not only to improve my writing, but also to improve my handwriting, which has deteriorated alarmingly since the day I acquired my first computer. After a couple of months of resuming the practice, here is my progress report:
- It still feels laborious to fill three whole pages by hand, but my writing is definitely less of a scrawl than when I began. I get better results with a felt-tip pen than with a ballpoint, as the felt-tip’s slight resistance gives me more control.
- It’s almost impossible to do my three pages in the morning. The minute I open my eyes the dog needs to go outside, while the cat flies yowling through the house to remind me that he is starving to death. Then there is breakfast for self and spouse, shower, dressing, meditation. By the time I get to MPs, it isn’t M anymore. And there are often days when phone calls, emails, trips to the market, dog walks, and lunch with friends succeed each other with such rapidity that by the time I remember my MPs it’s evening, and I don’t do them.
- My review of two months’ worth of MPs made me want to fill my pockets with rocks and wade into the nearest stream. It’s not that the pages don’t make sense, because they do. There is logic, spelling, and punctuation. But ugh! the self-pity. It seems that, left to itself, my subconscious doesn’t speak. It whines, spewing out a stream of self-indulgent narcissism, punctuated with gobs of rage and irritation. Finding hidden gems in this morass is about as likely as finding a needle in the compost pile.
Maybe I should be more disciplined, and train my dog and cat to wait patiently in the morning until I’ve MPd? Or perhaps I should take the advice of Oliver Burkeman, who says that, if the point of MPs is to help us to let go of ideas of control and perfection, then it makes sense not to get the MP process itself become overly controlled and perfectionistic, not to get too hung up on whether one is doing the MPs at the right time of day, or every single day.
That’s my problem right there. Not only am I controlling and perfectionistic, but also overly compliant and reliant on authority. I assume that whatever “authority” I run into knows things that I don’t, and that wonderful things will happen if only I will follow their advice to the letter. If Cameron says, write three pages in the morning, who am I to write them in the evening? If Burkeman says, don’t worry about writing in the morning, who am I to contradict him?
How I envy those extraordinary people who go confidently through their lives, guided by an unerring inner compass….
As if advice to writers weren’t enough, the internet is also bursting with advice to artists, from what kind of pencil sharpener to buy to–you guessed it–the need to draw something, anything, every single day. So now I have not only MPs to worry about, but DPs (drawing pages) as well.
Morning pages, drawing pages, daily yoga, meditation, healthful walks, nutritious food…is there no end to the possibilities for self-improvement, and their false promise of eventual bliss? And yet, even though we know that bliss, no matter how spectacular our achievements, is unattainable, we (surely I’m not the only one?) keep being seduced by its mirage.
Resolved: to make friends with my failings and trudge along as best I can, bearing in mind the words of Antonio Machado (I know–another authority!): “Wayfarer, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.”*
*Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.