Thursday, July 31, 2008

Morning Pages

So, I've been seriously considering doing morning pages again. If you're not familiar with them, they are one of the two essential tools to unlocking your creativity advocated by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way. Cameron's theory is that if you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand first thing in the morning, you will unload all of the crap that is covering up your best ideas. I have two main reservations about engaging in this process again. One is that after years of not writing (because I type everything now), my hand hurts when I write longhand. (Also, typed journals stored on my laptop take up so much less room!) The other reservation has to do with Tony Robbins's idea that you should wake up and consciously force yourself to think about everything that is positive in your life in order to get the ball rolling in the right direction. I did morning pages for long enough to know that a good deal of what I wrote about was negative. Now, maybe that was just who I was back then. Or, maybe without direction I have a tendency to think negatively and my thoughts have a tendency to spiral downwards. I like Tony's exercise because if I'm not in a good mood, it always changes my mood for the better. So, my fear of doing morning pages again, of tapping into my subconscious, is a fear that I'll dig and dig and negative, dark thoughts will be all I find. I have convinced myself that thinking positively is something I need to make myself do consciously, not a natural inclination I need to uncover.

But, my question is this, how can I be truly creative if I am actively directing my thoughts? In order to uncover my unique creative voice, I have to write and tap into my subconscious somehow. How could I do that without wading through some (or a lot of) darkness? And then, how would "thinking positively" fit into my lifestyle?

Julia Cameron says of creativity:

"Creativity is a spiritual force. The force that drives the green fuse through the flower, as Dylan Thomas defined his idea of the life force, is the same urge that drives us toward creation. There is a central will to create that is part of our human heritage and potential. Because creation is always an act of faith, and faith is a spiritual issue, so is creativity. As we strive for our highest selves, our spiritual selves, we cannot help but be more aware, more proactive, and more creative."

She says of morning pages:

"You should think of them not as "art" but as an active form of meditation for Westerners. In the morning pages we declare to the world—and ourselves—what we like, what we dislike, what we wish, what we hope, what we regret, and what we plan."


Jake said...

Ah, the problem with self-help books - dothisnodothat!

Creativity, like spirituality, demands limits in order to function. That's the problem with so much modern pseudo-religious thought: it's forgotten that rules and limits are part of the game. When you set out to do these morning pages, I think the value comes in setting various limits on what you'll write about. It could be as simple as declaring some topics off-limits, it could be as wild as using nothing but words that start with 'l'. Within those kinds of constraints, the exercise shifts from just solipsistic wanderings to actual creative thinking and problem solving.

That's what's great about the sonnet form - it's so not how we talk (anymore, at least, and I doubt ever) but it really forces you to solve the problems of its rhyme and meter. (Good grammar is similar - I just tried to write a sentence that I couldn't because there's no adjective form of "rhyme" so I had to re-write the sentence.) Free verse of the kind that shows up ad infinitum in The New Yorker lacks those constraints, and so, usually lacks any kind of creative energy.

I hope you report back on your experiments!

Pam said...

But the point of doing morning pages is that you write stream-of-consciousness... If you set limits, it wouldn't be stream-of-consciousness...

Scott said...

Here's a thought, Pam. A close friend of mine battled some SERIOUS depression (like, serious enough to be hospitalized numerous times) and in the end has beaten it through behavioral modification therapy of a specific sort. For a while, she wrote down every single negative thought she had about herself in a little notebook, then rated the thought from 1 to 10 on how negative it was, rated it from 1 to 10 on how much she believed it, and rated it from 1 to 10 on how actually true it was. Something like that, I may be mis-remembering a few details. In any case, at the end of each week, she examined her notebook, and pondered these things. The sheer numbers of negative thoughts, the venom her mind directed at itself, the degree to which she believed things about herself that she knew weren't true... and eventually through bringing all that in the open (along with a lot of therapy) she was able to get her mind to stop attacking itself.

Now, I'm not suggesting you do this, and I certainly wouldn't want you to waste too much time. But what if you wrote the morning pages, full-on stream-of-consciousness style, and then at the end of each week, made these sorts of observations about them. Examine just how much negative energy is there, and think about whether you really believe it, and whether it's true, and whether you deserve it... and then make a conscious effort in your everyday life to train your mind not to bring up negative thoughts that it knows are not true. Easier said than done, perhaps, but it might be a way you could both do the morning pages and still work on positivity. Maybe?

Pam said...

Thank you for the advice. So, I've done morning pages two mornings in a row now and what I'm discovering is that they are not nearly as negative as I thought they would be, but also that the negative thoughts are very surfacey and what's deep down underneath is very positive. For example, I'm troubled right now because I am having some serious acid reflux and it's making my throat swollen, which couldn't help but come up in my morning pages because it's so right there on the surface of my life, but what's underneath is faith that things will get better in time with medication and that my doctor will help me, etc. etc. I would have to go back and look at those morning pages I wrote back in college, but I think I just didn't have as much faith then -- or maturity. I should say also that I will try to collect and assess the negative thoughts at the end of the week. And also - to Jake - I am finding that compromise isn't so impossible as I thought. Thanks again for your comments.