Sunday, August 23, 2015

Morning Pages

The Artist's Way has been on my bookshelf for the past twenty-something years, if my memory serves me correctly.  I do not recall exactly where I got it from originally.  Bookstore?  Mail-order book club?  Gift?  I dunno.  The early nineties were a long time ago, and the details are fuzzy.  I do distinctly remember that it was on the bookshelf next to my rickety sofa-on-wheels in that tiny studio apartment I lived in during my second year of college.  

And if it was on my shelf in that apartment, then that means I boxed it up and moved it into the next NINE places I lived over the years.  Clearly, it means a lot to me, that book.

Except that I never cracked the cover in all those years and all those moves.

I know.  If it weren't so absurd, it would be embarrassing.  

Over the past few years though, The Artist's Way kept coming up in conversation, on websites, and in social media posts.  Each time, I would have an aha moment, and would then immediately forget about it again.  Recently, as I sat at my desk one afternoon, filled with frustration over how blocked I felt creatively, I leaned back in my chair and glanced towards the bookshelf to the right of my desk, and there it was.  That book.  Just sitting there.  Waiting for me.

If you are unfamiliar with it, The Artist's Way is a bestselling 12-week program designed to break through your creative blocks and to help you find your voice - whether you are a writer, photographer, sculptor, painter, dancer, or whatever.  The two main, non-negotiatible activities at the center of the program are the daily morning pages and the weekly artist date.

The artist date is cool, and I have found inspiration from it, but the impact of the daily morning pages has blown my mind.  Morning pages are designed to be stream-of-consciousness writing, about literally anything that comes to mind, and are not meant to be re-read or shown to anyone else.  Not because they're top-secret or filled with your innermost thoughts, but because what you write in your morning pages is unimportant.

What I have found is that the morning pages acts as a brain dump, allowing me to empty my head of all the tedious and mundane thoughts that occupy entirely too much of my head space and which distract me from what really matters.  Every morning, I brush my teeth, drink my hot lemon water, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down at the kitchen table with my notebook.  I open to a blank page, click my pen, hold it over the page, and even though I cannot think of the first thing to write, the pen begins moving and I fill up three pages in a matter of minutes.  Every time.

Solutions to nagging, boring problems come to me during this time, revelations about emotional hang-ups come easily, and unimportant things over which I have been obsessing lessen in perceived importance once they're put down on paper.  Most surprising, though, is how the rest of the day flows so much more smoothly after I close the notebook, pour another cup of coffee, and get on with the rest of my day.  Without those tedious and mundane thoughts bouncing around in my head like a pinball (and driving me mad), I work more efficiently and find myself better able to avoid pointless distractions.  I focus more clearly on the important tasks in my day, I relax more fully in the evenings, and I sleep better at night.

Mind-blowing, I tell you.  It is as if my brain is being re-trained.  

Whether your goal is to become more creative or not, the value of morning pages cannot be overstated.  Journaling has been shown to have a positive impact on physical well-being, regular writing is known to have mental health benefits, and daily journaling can help you reach your goals.

A fancy hard-cover notebook is unnecessary.  You do not need a special pen.  Your grasp (or lack) of rudimentary spelling and fundamental grammar is utterly beside the point.  The idea is to pick a time each day, whether it is first thing in the morning, over lunch, or before bed, and just do it.  Open the notebook and pour the noise in your brain out onto the page.  Burn the pages after you're done if you would like.  The quality of the writing does not matter.  

Really.  The quality of the writing does not matter.  Just drain your brain.  And then move on.  You just might find, as I did, that you can control your thoughts.  You do not have to dwell on every little thought that pops into your head.  You do not have to obsess over those thoughts that don't deserve your time.  Write them down.  And then move on.

Write it down.  And move on.

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