(Not My) Morning Pages
A fellow artist spotted me in the local coffee shop with my notebook and pen and said, “You’re doing your morning pages?”
Now, I knew what he was talking about and if you’ve read The Artist’s Way, so do you. I read The Artist’s Way in 1996 and it had a profound effect on me. I was fresh out of college, working at my third acting job and had just realized that being an actor was not only going to be really fucking hard but was also not going to be enough for me artistically. The Artist’s Way was my first step toward creating my own work. Along with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, it started me writing every day and I have held tightly to that practice ever since.
What’s interesting to me about being asked if I’m doing my morning pages is how I definitely don’t think of what I’m doing that way. Now, just as Julia Cameron (author ofThe Artist’s Way) would suggest, I write a bunch of nonsense every day. Pages of it. Just blah, blah, blah, journal, diary type “the weather’s beautiful, the weather’s awful” shit. But, I now think of these pages as clearance. When I write pages of nonsense, I’m just clearing the decks. It’s like stretching before the game, not the game itself.
And the thing itself can evolve out of the garbage that spills out of the pen at first. Sometimes in expressing my fury at the theatre business, for example, a little blog post is born.
Eventually, actual writing can emerge out of the compost I turn over when I begin. I can turn up stories or plays or ideas that lead to new projects out in the world. But what is most important to me is the discipline of sitting down and getting to the writing. And I have created a great many structures for myself to keep my head in the game, to keep tending the garden, even when I’m tempted to just keep raking the compost.
It goes like this: I clear the decks. (practice inspired by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg.) I make a list of images (practice inspired by Lynda Barry.) I write in response to a line from Hamlet (a practice that leads to a whole lot of nonsense and the occasional short story) and then I get to ten minutes of timed writing on the thing I’m “really” working on. This is sometimes a play. Or a novel. Or a short story. And it comes last because it is the meat of the matter. I put myself in a number of funny arrangements just to get to those highly concentrated ten minutes. And while this ever-evolving, patchwork practice has been inspired by a great many writers, it is tailored to me and mine.
Sometimes it all strikes me as a little silly — all these structures just to create a something every day but then I think: this is the REAL work of the artist. The work isn’t the stuff that gets seen, although that’s lovely. It is the creating of structures in your life to allow yourself to create. The creating part is easy when you’ve got the right conditions. The real challenge is laying the groundwork to have the right conditions on a regular basis. And really, you can call that whatever you want. Morning Pages. Wild Mind. The Bones. Art. Whatever.
P. S. I originally wrote this for my blog, Songs for the Struggling Artist, and when I saw this prompt, I just couldn’t help but bring it over here. Because I thought about trying to answer in a new way but this was the answer I had for the question before I read the question and then again when I read the question. Because this is how I make space. Every day.
Plus it looks so much prettier over here!