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:

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.

Creativity is Spirituality, Maybe?

This week The Artist’s Way programme asked me to dig deeper into spiritual practice by putting down my book and my phone.

Week four has asked a lot of me. Firstly, Julia Cameron prescribes a reading detox. Her more recent update here suggests this is actually a full on media deprivation. Well I  failed. I have known for a phone usage is off the chart. I justify some of the excessiveness because my phone is where I:

  • Read books on Kindle
  • Listen to books on Audible
  • Write and read posts on WordPress
  • Keep up with the #WritingCommunity on Twitter
  • Keep up-to-date on Goodreads

Without excusing myself completely this could all be counted as work right now. It also gives me a sense of community whilst also, of course, writing into the abyss.

My phone is also my crutch, a place where I do not just “work” as I tried to describe it above, but also where I play mindless games. Where I listen to funny podcasts. Where I watch cleaning videos of YouTube. These are less productive, but still part of my down time.

Painting of Woman reading, reclined
Actual image of me reading….Painting by Gustave Courbet, Photo on by Cliff on Flickr

As a nod to the process I did delete some game apps so that I only do a daily Sudoku on there while my husband’s TV is on. But it is a concession to what she asks of us in this week. Alongside this process I have also got a GoodReads Challenge on the go and wanted to get back to that. At least being mindful of my phone time, gave me chance to read. But this isn’t what she means.

So I suppose I admit what I find hardest was adjusting not just to a new way of life, less dependent on my phone, but also the spiritual element that this chapter was talking about. For me, it is very difficult to believe in what she believes in. What I have done more of though is incorporate meditation into my mornings again. This quiet that she believes can help creativity, it’s something I crave too.  Reading deprivation is at least a little further forward in my mind now. It’s a tool I will probably come back to but for now, I copped out of this week’s challenge, making smaller changes instead.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading deprivation or phone detox? I can’t be the only one to find it hard.

Where’s my literary salon?

Artist’s Way Week Three: Find your creative friends.

Your vibe attracts your tribe, don’t they say? Well I don’t know what it says that I spend most of my time with a sticky six-year-old but I am not sure if I am in the season of my life to hold a Bluestocking Salon. The third week on the Artist’s Way programme is really about friends.

I wish I had more people close who could boost my creativity. Certainly gathering people around you whose qualities you admire helps. The right people can bolster you in any area of life not just your creative work. But having time to engage specifically with your art with another person is harder to do.

It think in her essay, Julia Cameron makes it sound simple but it feels more like a thought experiment right now. I mean I would love to hold a literary salon, but would you mind turning up between 10pm and 11pm? That’s the time between my son going to sleep and me collapsing into bed. Oh, and while we discuss our writing, I’m just going to be putting the dishwasher on because he doesn’t like the noise of it.

I have been enjoying doing the housework more since I started my new routines and Marie Kondo’d at least a little bit. So it is not as simple to say that chores stop me from making time for creative friends. I admit I have known for a while that I sometimes lack stimulation for my brain. This is brought on by being time poor, being hooked on reality TV and trying to coordinate diaries with other people in the same predicament. Modern life gets in the way. We are all too busy, aren’t we?

Although I didn’t really need my morning pages on the topic to identify what is missing, I also need to remind myself that this may just be a feature of early motherhood. This is a phase of life where just going to Aldi in the evening is exciting because “Look at me, I’m out!” This may not be true for everyone, but it is logistically complicated to get time away from the house in the evenings for me right now.

I did manage to see a friend for coffee this week which is very exciting when you have had a few weeks of ill health. We didn’t get on to the works of Tolstoy this time because I was too busy telling her the ins and outs of my (thankfully minor) operation.

I also got to see the excellent Rocketman which is of course uplifting and inspiring while also making you experience the pain Elton must have been through too. It was definitely a movie I would happily watch again straight away. Back to back with Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. There is nothing to compare to  the experience of being swept along by  a musical (I really want Rocketman to be staged, even if Jukebox musicals get a bad rap, this one is excellent) A collective cathartic cry is pretty good too. But this is the closest to going out and enjoying art that I got to this week.

I would be really interested to know how other artistic parents find time to gather others of their ilk around them. For the moment, I think dipping in and out of the #writingcommunity on Twitter may be the most I can manage. Even then keeping up with them all is hard, but there an awful lot of people out there who want to share and be interested in a more literary life. And for my life right now, that may mean connecting online not in real life.

Have you got literary friends?


What prompted you today?

Inspiration just strikes you, not out of nowhere because it’s everywhere.

Prompts are everywhere. I’m starting to feel more creative as I unblock myself, but I can’t control when a burst comes out. I started to write that a character has allergies. This is not too much of a stretch. Pollen is high and I am waking with eyes streaming. Also, this young woman has moved from her urban life to be out in the countryside, she may even encounter hay.

Corn field in sharp summer light, my nose is running just looking at it,

Instead of writing this into a scene as I set out to do. She has run off into the fields, which I suddenly feel like I am making a political point about Theresa May which isn’t really what I intended. When I sit to write, a short poem comes out. Poetry class was probably one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. I was privileged to be coached by poet Mary Salter, who also happens to edit and compile every English student’s favourite the Norton Anthology. You would be hard pressed to get some one less knowledgeable.

As well as puzzling over my challenging grammar, apparently you don’t usually just leave it out of poems unless you are masterful like ee cummings. I am not. It was eye opening and I tried to work harder at learning the rules. Breaking them intentionally now. My US classmates were so much better because they are taught a very rigorous programme on grammar and punctuation throughout school. Mind you, that may have made me worse. I hated with a passion doing Hayden Richards at school (anyone else remember him?) despite English always being my favourite subject. I think I have years of sentence naming etc. ahead with my son’s schooling so I will probably get a few more lessons. It can’t hurt.

What poetry class really thought me though is the immense power in word choice. Always read aloud, the meter but also the depth of each word chosen could send you off in endless editing circles. So, a page of poetry instead of prose this morning. It is very poorly constructed – no doubt the commas in the wrong place, but also peppered with a pleasing number of crossings out as I decide between sunken chest rib. The pleasure in writing poetry (and no doubt pain) is the luxury to mull over every word. As I edit the damn draft, I can stop and chose the crucial word, read out loud and choose what feels perfect for me. If I do ever get it into the hands of an editor, they can help me do it all over again, many times over.

I will be publishing my update on the Artist’s Way programme tomorrow, here‘s what has happened before. I think I can see already that I am being more creative and it has been powerful giving over to the inspiration.

What’s inspired you today?