Following on from last week’s thoughts on meditation, this week’s blog features another way of clearing static from the mind, morning pages.
Julia Cameron, in her seminal book for writers, The Artist’s Way, insists that morning pages –three long-hand pages of stream-of-consciousness writing — are essential to the creative process. Her theory is that we purge ourselves of mind static by writing it all down on the morning pages and are then free to get on with our work of creativity.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, instructs her students to start with childhood memories in their quest to “tell the truth” in stories.
I try to combine these two pieces of advice in my writing exercises. Yes, I do writing exercises. Just like a pianist practices scales, every artist/performer must keep her tools in good working order. In other words, practice. Many of my writer friends consider morning pages a waste of time. The thirty minutes spent spewing drivel — their words, not mine — could be better spent on the current work. That may be true for some, but I find doing some exercises before getting into the real work of the day, makes that real work more enjoyable, more poetic and more “true.” However, I do choose which exercise to practice.
If my vocabulary seems to have shrunk to the same ten verbs repeated over and over, I do a “beautiful words” exercise. Some words resonate with me, perhaps not with you, but the morning pages are for the writer not the reader. So, I’ll fill a page with words like lilacs, lady, lavender, lollygag, lamp, luggage, lily, lollapalooza . . . It doesn’t really matter what the words are, I’m just opening my mind to the beauty of language and calling some of those buried syllables to the forefront. When I’ve finished, I go to my WIP and the words, that have been laboured and blocked, now flow joyfully.
Often I’ll use my morning pages to create emotion. Here’s where the instruction to start with childhood memories is invaluable. As adults we’ve learned to be civilized, to bite down on harsh words, to take a balanced approach. As adults, we’ve learned to flat-line our emotions. As children, we had no such constraints. If we were happy, we were ecstatic, if we were angry, we were in a red-hot fury, if we were hurt our very souls wept with the pain. If the scene in my story demands that my heroine be angry, I’ll do a writing exercise recalling a moment in childhood or the teenage years when I shook my fist in the face of my tormentor and shouted out my righteous rage.
To make these exercises effective for the story teller, they must go into detail. Remember the room you were in when the event took place. Describe it in every tiny detail. Try to recall if there was music or bird song or the hum of a furnace. What did it smell like? What were you wearing? In the morning pages, you want to go deep into your memory. As well as putting you in the appropriate emotional state, the writing will put you into deep point-of-view as well. The scene you write after this writing practice will be more “true” than any you made up out of your conscious mind. Don’t worry about running out of material. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.
Morning pages can take the form of character interviews or a diary entry. Here is where I explore my character, sound out her childhood memories, let her dream without constraint of money or time or circumstance. When I put that character into the story, most of what I wrote in the morning pages will never make the published page, but the essence of what I wrote, forms the character and the more “true” that character is, the better the story.
Make up your own writing exercises. Practice them. See if it doesn’t make your writing – or painting, or sewing, or teaching or gardening – more satisfying.
If you haven’t read “he Artist’s Way, or Bird by Bird I highly recommend them.