This weekend marks my 10th year of following the advice in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and getting up early each day to write “morning pages” — three hand-written pages of whatever comes to mind. This means that I’ve written 3650 (well, maybe I’ve skipped two or three days in that 10 years, but otherwise it’s been every day) days of “morning pages” — or, as I also call them, “journals.” I’ve almost always written at least 3 pages, and probably my average is more like 4 notebook pages; at an estimated 250 words/page, that’s 1,000 words/day, so 3.7 million words. Sure, it’s meaningless to talk about a quantity of words written, but it’s still fun to see those numbers. It’s weird to think I could write a million of anything, but over time, the texts add up.
I have kept a journal since I graduated high school at age 18, but until age 30, I wrote only sporadically, usually when I felt I had something to express, and that filled about 35 notebooks (mostly of the 8.5″ by 11,” 200-ruled-page variety). But once I started writing journals, I still recorded things I felt I needed to record (including daily activities, reactions to experiences, etc.), but I also started writing things that I didn’t know I needed to say. I started to say things that surprised me, things that seemed wiser than I felt I was, and so I have been able to learn from my smarter-self (my subconscious mind? I’m not sure where these ideas come from), such that I feel like my best teacher now, the teacher I most need to pay attention to, is my self.
Sure, that sounds egotistical, and sure, most of the 160 journals I’ve filled in 10 years do not contain fascinating writing. It’s the height of self-indulgence, someone could say. And yet, of course, it’s “indulgent” only if I’m asking for others to indulge me, to pay attention to what I’ve written only for myself, and that’s not what I’m doing. Writing doesn’t always need to be made for others, and I write because I love the sense of listening to my writing-voice.
Writing these journals has also given me a chance to write on days where I wouldn’t otherwise time or energy to create. I get up early to write, and that’s time I’ve been able to protect better than, say, time in the evenings.
I don’t even go back and read my own journals very often. I have kept all of my journals, and I go back sometimes to see what I did on a certain date, and sometimes to see what I was thinking about. I wonder sometimes if these journals could provide ideas for writing about here on the blog, and they could, and have, but mostly once I write a journal, it’s done. It’s past. I want to write what’s going on now, what’s new, rather than re-reading what’s past.
It’s been an interesting and valuable practice for me, and I’d recommend others try it as well — I do assign my high school writers to write journals, with topics of their own choosing, every class day. Some of my students seem to love doing their journals while others don’t enjoy it much. I suggest to all of them that they at least keep the journals they’ve written once the class is done — this text of their teen-selves is something that no money can replace. I now have almost 200 books that are unique to my library.
But Julia Cameron’s book states that morning pages are a primary tool of creative recovery, and I’d agree that doing these journals has helped me grow as a writer — I have learned more about what I want to do and who I am as a writer, and I’ve also learned what seems to me to be the most-important concept in becoming an artist: the willingness to put words on paper without worrying about whether these words are interesting or good or bad. I just write, and that’s enough (most days, anyway).
Natalie Goldberg speaks of basically the same practice in “Writing Down the Bones,” only her take is more from a specifically Zen perspective (without being over-bearing about it).
I have found this practice to be extremely beneficial.
I have found that getting myself to commit to doing this practice is extremely difficult.
I have the same problem with Taiji.
Though I know I am healthiest and happiest (or at least calmest, smoothest) when I am doing these things, I have trouble committing.
Thanks for the reminder. It is much needed right (write) now.
I like Natalie Goldberg’s book a lot, too. I sometimes read from her book to my students to give credence to my journal-writing assignment.
I first tried the daily journaling when I was 25 and did it for a few weeks, but it wasn’t til I was 30 that it stuck with me. Now I just don’t feel I can start my day without it (even when I put it off til later morning on the weekends).