Earlier this week I came across an article that introduced me to the idea of ‘morning pages’. That sounds slightly kinky, but actually it’s more boring than whatever you just imagined. Morning pages boils down to writing three pages of whatever-the-hell-you-want (single words, notes, novel, poem, whatever) in longhand every day, as a way to empty the junk out of your head so you can focus on creative work without other random thoughts cluttering up your head space. This idea apparently comes from a book called The Artist’s Way – which seems entirely too self-helpy for me to actually read – but the article I read and now can’t find again seemed to believe it was also a good way of clearing thoughts as a whole, rather than just dealing with a creative block.
So, I figured, why not try it? Even though the name specifies morning, I’ve been writing my three pages whenever I have time and there seems to be something to it. I’m finding the very specific page count useful, for a start, even if I did worry a little bit too much about the page size. (Do they mean A4? A5? Be more specific! I’m so bloody spontaneous.) Anyway. Not two pages; not four pages. Always three. This is long enough to get to the point of whatever’s on my mind; short enough that it’s impossible to wallow. It’s also just a good exercise in discipline, putting pen to paper every day. And my handwriting definitely doesn’t get practised often enough.
What I like about it most is that it’s an excuse to write things just for me. I kept a diary steadily from the age of 11 to roughly 16, but after that the diary writing grew less, and recording days became more of a scrap-booking exercise (saving tickets, writing the odd note). When I wrote anything, it was on-line or else in the form of essays or stories. I almost entirely stopped writing for me, to me. I wrote, and these days normally do write, with the expectation that what’s being written will be read by other people, constantly censoring myself for an audience. So there’s something very liberating about writing three pages of utter rubbish and knowing that even I probably won’t read back through them.
Except I will. If I can keep going with this morning pages business for a few weeks, I want to see if any patterns emerge. By no means the most productive person in the world, I do have a tendency to have more projects on my mind (if not on the go) than I can feasibly fit into a day. I line up so many things to do that I find myself paralysed and end up doing nothing. I am hoping that going through the rubbish of my head will help me figure out which things I worry about really are rubbish, even to me, and so can be left by the wayside.
See, I’ve been pretty good, for the past nine months now, at writing at least an entry a week for this blog, as well as faffing about with other small ideas. That’s remained constant. But the relatively good balance between training and writing and work and relationships that I had a handle on before I had to stop training has become a bit, er, see-sawish. When I stopped training completely I turned my attention to music and writing. Now that I can (and do) train again, I’m finding I don’t want to cut back on the creative stuff. Dear God, could this be… ambition? Ouch.
Ambition be damned – it bothers me that relaxing feels like such a guilty pleasure these days. There’s no one but me putting the pressure on (I’m not so deluded as to think anyone is clamouring to read this blog, let alone the other bits and pieces; no one but me cares if I make it to the end of a race) so there’s nothing to feel ashamed of if I don’t do all the things I plan to. But still, genuinely chilling out for a while seems so impossible. It’s become something that seems slightly extravagant. A bit of a novelty.
Is it just me that feels this way?
Over the next month, I hope to use the morning pages exercise as a way to clarify what I do and don’t want/need to do. I should not feel guilty for not working on four different projects on a Sunday. I should be able to sit in the sun after a fairly grim swimming session, and chat to a friend and drink coffee and relax without looking to the next thing to do. There should be no whiny little voice at the back of my brain telling me It’s time to go home now, actually, and keep working working working and have something to show for the weekend.
Show what, to who? A mild tan and a new second-hand book to read should be result enough.
After I posted a link to this on Facebook, this conversation happened with someone who had a very different view of the situation. Who do you agree with?
Person 1: It’s a good thing! Make good art, after all. And it is the path to happiness. Stay with it. Sleep is the enemy of your dreams.
Me: I think using Shakespeare for a title might be a whole new level of pretension for me. Next time, Chaucer!I don’t buy the sleep thing. I like sleep.
Person 1: It just means don’t waste your time. Use every waking minute. And Chaucer might lose some people. Try the earl of Rochester: the imperfect enjoyment would be fitting, although COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT. Important, that.
Me: Nooo, the point is I don’t WANT to use every waking minute! I want to be able to relax without feeling like that’s wasted time.
Person 1: I know, but I disagree with you. Productivity is brilliant! And you shouldn’t feel guilty about not being able to do nothing. Ambition is brilliant! How do you think any thing in this world changes if not through people with ambition? It means you’re taking control of your life.a good thing.And perhaps you’ve found a new way to relax.
No. *Controlled* productivity is brilliant – but never being able to switch off and just relax, and never differentiating between what is worth spending the time on and what’s just taking up head-space leads to burn out. When you can’t concentrate on one project because you’re already thinking about the next one, then life is out of balance and priorities need to be sorted out.
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