One year ago – after ten months of energetically marketing my novel – I followed The Artist’s Way, a twelve-week course in finding my way back to the page. Written by Julia Cameron, the book has become something of a bible for artistic types who want to work past all the blocks to creativity that we allow to get in our way.
The Artist’s Way started as a print book, but is now available in many formats, including an on-line course. Each week has a dedicated chapter that includes a series of exercises and tasks, such as collage-making and other non-language activities. One weekly assignment is the Artist Date – where you take yourself out for two hours to do something fun and different with your eyes and brain, like go to a museum. Honestly, in twelve weeks I never cut out pictures from a magazine and I never went on a single artist date. I never really got past lesson one: Morning Pages.
Morning Pages are the backbone of the program, which promotes creativity as “the natural order of life.” In truth, I’d already been practicing something like Morning Pages, ever since reading Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers, back in the eighties, when I taught writing. Also known as “automatic writing” – Morning Pages capture what Natalie Goldberg calls “Wild Mind” – writing as Zen practice. To follow The Artists Way, I committed to filling three pages with my morning mind every day. Piece of cake.
After writing the morning pages, I tackled the weekly tasks that allowed me to continue to write. Just the practice of sitting at my desk first thing in the morning was helpful. Answering the questions gave me further insight into my fears and aspirations as a writer. Following The Artist’s Way for the full twelve weeks also allowed me to accept that I wasn’t going to do any of the non-verbal exercises this time around, nor was I going to make a single artist date. Learning to decide what was reasonable for me to do – and forgiving myself not being able to do it all – was an unintended consequence of the program. Maybe the next time I do The Artist’s Way I’ll add the art-based exercises. In the meanwhile, I’ve made Morning Pages a daily part of my writing practice. I almost always start the day with them, but even on days when I don’t – I get to them before the day is done.
Morning Pages are useful not only in helping me order my mind for the day, but they are a great tool for getting out of being stuck. Because Morning Pages allow for anything and everything to be splashed on the page – and because they are completely private and not for publication – they allow me to exorcise the obvious, saccharine, trite, sentimental, and/or stupid, until I stumble across the real and scary idea I want to say. Morning Pages both help me discover what needs to be articulated and give me the courage and clarity to do so.
Cameron says, “Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts.”
Twenty bucks will buy the book, some paper and a new pen. It’s a small investment that can yield surprising and satisfying results.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com