Do you keep a writing journal? Or are you more a ‘morning pages’ sort of person? For anyone who doesn’t know, morning pages were the brainchild of Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The idea is that you take time every day – preferably first thing in the morning – to write anything that comes into your mind. You do it in longhand and don’t show anyone what you’ve written. This way you allow your brain to spout any old nonsense it feels like and in the process [the thinking goes] it frees up your creativity.
My mornings are more about wrestling boys into school uniforms and stopping them from killing each other over the Weetos than sitting at my window and writing in my beautiful leather journal [if I even had such a thing]. Plus, I can barely handwrite a shopping list these days. But I like the principle. I have a file on my computer where I can spout nonsense, work out knotty problems with my plot, jot down ideas and rant and wail about the submission process without ever being told to put a sock in it.
But it’s also taught me something about the way I process my emotions and reminded me how just therapeutic writing can be.
Just over a year ago, my four-year old child fell out of the tree he was climbing in the local park. He didn’t fall far – probably no more than two feet - but he landed at an awkward angle and broke his arm very badly. My elder son was there too and as we waited for an ambulance, we watched someone we love in more pain than I’d ever imagined possible. The ambulance duly came and my son ended up having emergency surgery to re-set the arm. With typical small boy resilience, he seemed to get over it all in no time.
But I didn’t. I kept having flashbacks of him lying under that tree, his arm with a new, unnatural bend where no bend should be. I’d written about the whole episode in my writing diary as a straightforward sequence of events but over the following week I kept returning to the subject. And then I had a breakthrough. I wrote about how it had felt as though my little boy was broken, not just his limb, and in that moment, I understood why I was unable to get over this thing. The horror lifted and I felt immediately better. I could accept that my little chap in his big blue cast was on the mend. It had just been a bit of nasty luck.
I wouldn’t like to suggest that I have major breakthroughs like this all the time. Most of the time I’m writing rubbish. But I do know that my writing diary, un-morning-page-like as it may be, is something I now couldn’t be without.