The Imperfect Guide to Morning Pages

I have been blogging for a few months about my experience of The Artist’s Way programme by Julia Cameron. I may not have finished drafting my novel yet, but I am finding it a great creative outlet to use Morning Pages. Put simply, you try and write three handwritten pages each morning. She gives you prompts for each chapter and I would recommend her book to go into the process in depth. But here is my realistic guide to writing Morning Pages even though life gets in the way.

Step One: Wake and Write

Mum life means I do not get to rise on my own steam and reach straight for a pen. I am usually woken by the juggernaut that is my son. You know what they say “I’m up from son rise to son down.”

This mean I do not complete my morning pages at first light with a cup of herbal tea, the birds singing. Instead I have no option but to get him entertain himself first. This is a lot of effort and involves being asked several times where the blue pen is or being sat upon. Cute, but annoying if you are supposed to be staying in a steam of consciousness flow. If he lets me sit to them, it is already thirty minutes after I have woken and I have started to notice the jobs I have to do around the house. It’s hardly surprising that I often end up writing them with Peppa Pig on in the background.

Step Two: Write Everything Down

Although Cameron prompts you, she also advises that you should write down all the thoughts you have as you write “This is annoying,” or “I haven’t got time” or “This is so dirty.” Not dirty thoughts, of course, but just wondering why the arm of the sofa looks almost blackened and how to get that off. It is not surprising that these thoughts preoccupy me because I have shoe-horned in my morning pages when I am already trying to complete my daily to do list in the hour before I have to get ready to take him to school or going to work. And as I wrote here, this means I have a lot of thoughts about home interrupting my visions of creative life that she wants me to reflect upon.

Step Three: Don’t Re-Read

There are points where you are asked to review your thoughts and reflect on your “creative recovery” but otherwise the stream of consciousness is to get all your fears down. I suppose by putting them down, they free you when you do come to the page to write (or paint, or do anything creative you want to do.) This has only sort have worked for me.

It must be how my mind works that in the past I have always used a journal to make lists, set goals or write reminders. Perhaps you are supposed to be so inspired that you remember your intention but for me, I need to refer back all the time to what I wrote in the morning.

This might be as simple as write blog post about wedding rings (coming soon!) or also quotes that I have like that have inspired me. Although I did designate one notebook for the pages, I feel the need to have a secondary journal and this blog as well of course to gather my reflections and write down the inspiration I find.

Step Four: Keep it Secret

Well I haven’t shared everything, but I have definitely been sharing my thoughts on this blog and I have been telling everyone I can in the #WritingCommunity about Morning Pages. I find that your ideas start to spill out into real life anyway. That you start to share the joy you find on your creative journey and on completing Artist’s Dates (more ideas on this soon). This means though you do not pass on your Morning Pages for anyone to read, I can hardly say that I keep it a secret. The risk of course is that you may meet criticism, derision maybe but so far that has been the case.

Step Five: Do it Imperfectly

My final piece of advice is not care less what they look like or whether you actually wrote them on the bus because you ran out of time. Don’t worry that you miss days or write afternoon pages instead. You are doing it for you and although I seen some beautiful bullet journals and journalling online, it is not that. It is as scribbled as you like. It is as rushed as it has to be. It is being as honest with yourself as you dare.

If you dare to be imperfect you will overcome the fears you have. Yes of course I have a pretty notebook because I am a stationary hoarder but it doesn’t have to look like those ones you seen online. It’s just three pages every day. It’s a simple process and you can do it as imperfectly as me.

Read about my last few weeks here:

New place, new ideas

The formula for new ideas is simple, go somewhere new and talk to new people.

I have been scribbling notes this week, of course, while I am away. My mind that much more blank, with fewer responsibilities. My time a little less cluttered and already pursuing novelty as I look for new places to see each day as a tourist.

A great advantage of travelling around Britain is that it is particularly easy to talk to the locals. It seems the novelty of it all is all I need to get a new idea. I like to have a natter with people anyway (it’s probably the Northern-ish in me). Somehow though anywhere outside London, people seem a little more relaxed to tell you what they know about local history.

Being interested in all things folklore , it turns my head when I hear local legends. I still want to incorporate the famous argument about a bear I heard in The Forest of Dean in a story. I like my idea of about the Miller’s son I wrote down in Lincolnshire last year. No doubt my new interest will take me down a new path too.

Around here I have been reading a local pamphlet, having visited briefly the small museum at Bideford. There’s some lovely craft shops here too and all in all I have been absorbing facts and folklore from the place. My current work-in-progress has been glaring me as I make notes on a new topic.

Tales told in sculpted wool, an exhibit at Bideford Museum

I wrote back in January how the newness fairy often tempts me. My top five ways having new ideas can help your work-in-progress. The one positive about writing a novel is that it takes time. (Maybe not as long as I take.) Part of the process is trusting the small part your are working on,- a scene, a backstory will fit into the whole. So it’s really not a whole work but a series of inspired moments you are trying to pull together.

It is just as likely that these ideas will sit in my “snippets” folder alongside the Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire ideas, floundering with nothing to do. But it’s good to know I might be able to pursue them because I have no shortage of ideas and, one day, I may have time.

Where do you call home?

As I enjoy my holiday, I am circling back to the same question in my writing: how do we feel a sense of home?

I have been thinking about what is home, how to make a home this week. Reviewing my Morning Pages (which no-one else is allowed to do; it’s like an episode of Mortified) I notice that home is a great pre-occupation of my thoughts. As I write the pages I am distracted by what I see, what I think I should be doing this comes down to housework and wanting new furniture.  Since putting routines in place to clean my house more,  I suppose you could say I am more house proud. But really what I am craving is a calm environment.

We have come on holiday to a lovely cottage in Devon. We have been to the site before and I love that sense of knowing where you are. I don’t remember all the things we did before as it is four years ago (it seems I can’t remember anything without a photo now.) We drove through the main town nearby yesterday and I barely recall it all. However, here on the site there is a gentle familiarity. The déjà vu of enjoying the same views before. There is a comfort in that.

When I was sitting last night enjoying the sweeping hills, I thought about what I would replicate at home. The sofas are smaller so I have to sit next to my husband, the TV service is basic so we are forced to play a game or talk. It is small (and we live in a small house) but then we also close and snug. Being a British Summer holiday, we have already had lots of rain but I have enjoyed listening to the rain, watching it through the skylight. We have also been able to get outside for a longer time each day. Bonus, it has somewhat improved my son’s sleep, and this helps my sleep as well of course. None of these changes I have identified are impossible to replicate at home. I find myself craving the silence of it all.

Holiday is just taking time for simpler pleasures.

At the centre of the novel I am writing is a character trying to move away from home. She has escaped obligations of family life but life, of course, comes knocking. This week though I have been writing another short story related to someone who is obliged to stay near their family and the feelings of duty come up again. I have been wondering why I circle around this idea again and again.

It is interesting to me that these are preoccupations of my writing. Maybe children of divorce feel a greater sense of questioning about home? Although that’s really unfair because I had already moved out and got married when my parents divorced. Maybe also moving away from the area where I grew up and trying to make a life in the often unforgiving outskirts of London means I worry about my sense of place. In a city where everyone belongs, should I feel so little sense of community?  I am also thinking about where home really is, is it in my hometown with my school friends, is it snuggled up in our little family? Is it grabbing coffee from the cafe across the road? It is odd to me that I  even question it when I have lived around the same area for ten years now. The answer of course is it is all these places.

I know it is a cliché to say that “home is where the heart is” but I think you do start to understand that as you get older. It can feel like a number of places of course, but mainly it feels like the place that you make to feel like home. With each act of love, tidying, cooking, for me that is bringing in a sense of home to a place. So even here, on holiday, for this week I have been roughly following my routines. Throwing open the windows and enjoying the sense of it all. For this week at least it feels like ours. We are so lucky.

Envision the life you want

By now the Artist’s Way programme has asked me to do many things but it’s years since I collaged with magazines. Glue sticks and scissors out!

Week seven is all about rediscovering connection. Though it’s not the only task this week, Julia Cameron says everyone’s favourite is making a collage of images ripped from magazines. It may be that she is more of a visual artist, she is a filmaker, I believe. But I found this task a challenge.

One thing, I do not have magazines lying around anymore. In choosing to read more I have had to be judicious with my time. I can get a lot of the celebrity gossip rubbish from Instagram. And Pinterest gives me the ability to flick around topics from fashion to folklore.

I subscribe to Mslexia and Writer’s Forum which are great for keeping me abreast of the publishing industry but a little too wordy for this visual challenge. In the end I bought some new, some from charity shops and ripped out the images.

My results are heavy on calmness, books and going to the spa

My finished results were not too surprising, lots of images of books and calming outdoor scenes. There wasn’t much room for my family. I was focussing on a lot of nature, quiet time and candles. I think I have identified a few times in my creative journey the need for space to work and an ambition to attend a retreat.

I would say the exercise is fun to try although I am tempted to use a vision board app in future. It felt wasteful to cut up these magazines though ones I didn’t keep, I passed them on to my family with a few gaps. I would also say my results were a little predictable, one could even say basic! That is because the market forces are huge behind the wellness industry. I do want to spend time at a spa and drink lots of flat whites but magazines also spend a lot of time advertising these things to me. Telling me to take “me time” has a lot of money behind it.

I may be a little sceptical about the value of this activity but one interesting moment of synchronicity, as Julia Cameron calls it, was the latest issue of Project Calm is all about sisters. My novel circles around the relationship between two sisters. There seems to be a small selection of magazines now with projects to develop creativity. Much more me than the glossies these days and I can’t wait to take this on holiday.

A Fairy Visitation

Today’s #FolkloreThursday theme couldn’t be more perfect again: we had two visits from the tooth fairy in as many weeks.

                           Gappy boy!

This is quite complicated in our household. Our literal little boy is very nervous about the whole idea. Much like when Santa comes, he likes the end result but is scared of a magical entity coming near him while he sleeps. I mean, same.

Our solution is to put the tooth in a small hanging bag made by his Grandma and place it on the outside of the porch door. His anxiety means we  check for money in the morning and he takes it after some reassurance. I remember he was very disappointed the first time that it wasn’t a chocolate coin, he tried to bite the pound.

If you are not familiar with the tradition, the child leaves their baby tooth for the fairy to collect from under the pillow and receives money for it. The British Dental Association explains the tradition goes back to 1900s. There’s some ancient wisdom behind it both in British folklore and my own family.

They share a different story from Lanchashire than I had heard, Apparently Jenny Greenteeth would pull your child in the pond if children did not look after their teeth. She could also be used to get you to go to bed on time. I am about to write a review of the excellent The Familiars by Stacy Hall and I do wonder whether the infamous witchcraft trials in Lancashire influenced their different folklore. Either way I see the tales as being a way to encourage your children to look after their teeth.

The tale I have heard from Lanchashire comes from my Grandmother who grew up there. She always left my mum’s baby teeth in a dish of salt. The exchange would be the same, money for the salt and the tooth. I only found one essay mentioning this practice by Tad Teluja in The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. They suggest that the salt helps preserve the tooth: a knowledge about salting food went back centuries so makes sense. But another account of this is that it kept malevolent pixies away. Apparently teeth were burnt in medieval times, perhaps to stop witches from performing spells. The tradition is very interesting because I think it does seem to suggest adults may have had fears around the fairy or sprites. Maybe wrapped up with the fears that your child is no longer a baby this is quite natural.  

There could be many reasons that the tooth fairy myth has an important place in British childhood. The baby tooth  may have helped an adult ward off evil spirits from their child, more important in previous age of infant mortalities being high here. No doubt, it remains a method of getting them to brush their teeth or even to reassure them that good things are coming through these change.

If you have recently taken an interest in fairies like me, I would highly recommend this blog about British Fairies. I am very interested in the surge in the interest at the turn of the century when talk of fairies became part of adult life as much as children’s lives in Britain.