Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Anytime-of-day pages




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.

23 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

I started a journal a couple of months ago but gave up after a couple of weeks. I'd started writing about the minutiae of my daily life (erm, that doesn't make the most exciting reading, especially during term-time) and i got bored with it.

I like the idea of morning thoughts though - ie looking on a journal as a series of flashes instead of as a long, laborious novel...

Thought-provoking post, Caroline.

CarolineG said...

Thanks Sam. I think when any degree of duty comes into the process then it loses some of its purpose in a way. It's meant to be a freeing thing, rather than a chore..

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Great post, Caroline. I've kept journals all my life (my attic is bulging with them and I don't know what to do with them) and I find it hugely therapeutic to be able to write my feelings and thoughts down. First, the process gets them out of me and onto the page; second, they tend to become linear rather than circular, simply because writing is linear; and thirdly, they often lead to insight and understandings that I might not have got to in other ways. I've done Morning Pages at various times and kept them up for a few months at a time, but yes - they began after a while to feel like a chore. For me, it's better to write regularly but at any time that suits and as much as feels right at that time.

CarolineG said...

Susie,
I kept diaries when I was in my teens. I think they all got dumped, which is a bit sad because I'd love to read them now! [Or maybe I wouldn't....all that angst]

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Great post Caroline. I know that it's because of embracing morning pages in my life that I REALLY started writing. I also know that it only happened when I no longer had uniforms and weetos to deal with! As a principle ie a means to open up your creative veins for the day, I think it's wonderful and it got me into the habit of writing every day. I too though got bored with it and have now replaced it with continuing whatever WIP I have on the go daily.
I've never kept a journal although I loved the idea of it in my teens butI have a very nosy mother....!

CarolineG said...

Hmm, yes, I did have an unfortunate jealous-boyfriend-reading-my-diary episode at university, but that's another story!

Gillian McDade said...

Excellent post, Caroline! I don't do mornings at all, I'm afraid. I struggle to begin writing coherently at 9am in work, so I often start with the bilge of the day first (ie keying in Women's Institute reports!)
However, I have put my dictaphone to good use - it's a great way of recording ideas when driving or ironing :)

Julie P said...

I don't do mornings either, Gillian! I have a rather lively four year old girl who wakes between 6 - 7 am and I coudn't wake myself up earlier than that to write morning pages - I would be a wreck all day and wailing for my bed by three in the afternoon.

I did write an entire 1500 word short story once at 4am one morning when I couldn't sleep, though, maybe I should polish it up for publication.

I find I tend to write better in the evenings but I get inspired and the urge to write at all hours - most annoyingly just as I'm about to fall asleep or several times during the night! It's no wonder I'm so tired all the time - it's all that scribbling in my note book late at night!

Julie

emmadarwin said...

Good post, Caroline. Incidentally, Dorothea Brande got there fifty years before Cameron, in Becoming a Writer.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Yes, the only book about writing you need to own.

I think we're so lucky, as writers, to be able to "write things out" as it were. I've done this a few times, always after the event, and managed to sell stories from my outpourings, but they wouldn't have been stories had I not first put some distance between me and the event that triggered them.

CarolineG said...

Oops, thanks Emma!

Geri, a friend said this morning that I was 'lucky' to be able to write things out this way and it hadn;t ocurred to me to think of it like that. I do think this sort of therapeutic writing can work for anyone though, and wish I'd made that point..

Hack for hire said...

Really lovely post, actually made me feel a bit teary as I've got a four-year-old and the thought of seeing her in all that pain would leave me feeling the same way.

I love the idea of keeping a journal but I'm just trying to donate every spare minute to getting through the first draft of the novel at the mo.

CarolineG said...

Thank you, HFH :)

Paul Lamb said...

I've kept paper journals for nearly 30 years, and while I've used them to collect story ideas, I haven't done so in recent years. I still write in my journal, but nearly all of my fiction work is done on my laptop now. Even so, when I'm not near the computer, I make notes on paper with a pencil as they pop into my mind. And I've found the mere act of writing the words by hand seems to spark more ideas. Soon I'm racing across the page trying to keep up with the ideas that are coming in.

I suppose this has to do with upbringing. I was raised in the pencil and paper (and electric typewriter) age, so when I use the old tools, I probably tap into some ingrained resource. My children probably wouldn't have that same experience.

Jane Steen said...

Great post, Caroline. I keep a journal but I don't write in it often enough - your post inspires me to use it more regularly.

I love to look back over old journal entries to see what my day was like back then. I'm often surprised at insights I had but have completely forgotten. I began my journal at the start of my youngest girl's nightmare puberty, and it's interesting to see the stress I was under then. It helps me put a lot of things into perspective.

CarolineG said...

Paul -I do sometimes find that only a pen and paper wil do...but not that often, strangely.

Jane- thank you. I think it would probably break my heart to read my teenage diaries now!

Geraldine Ryan said...

I do think there's something in what Paul says about the actual act of handwriting triggering off ideas - probably you're using a dfferent part of the brain or something. I believe there is a now a "slow writing" movement, in the same way there is a "slow food"movement. I find writing with a pen really difficult and wish I could go back to it occasionally, on journeys etc.

Susannah Rickards said...

This is a great post Caroline. There is something clearing about writing down whatever you're fretting about.Having tried morning pages, and Nat Goldbergs Anytime of Day pages, I truly believe that the latter works best> it takes away any sniff of "I've failed' if you'r einterrupted or tired or running late. It doesn't have to be first thing - it can be whenever you grab a moment, and often the greatest plot or character insights come after a couple of pages about the kids outgrowing their shoes so often!

X S

Susannah Rickards said...

Sorry about the appalling typos. Posted that while my boys did the Macarena in my face... Oh it is most definitely the summer holidays!

CarolineG said...

Ah the glamour of motherhood...

Thanks Geri and Susannah!

emmadarwin said...

I'm not a journal-keeper, though I do keep notebooks. But handwriting is different: one of the reasons I write first drafts longhand is because I'm absolutely convinced that there's no interface, as it were, between my creative brain and my pen, whereas even tho' I'm a fast typist, in some sense there has to be some kind of processing before the words appear on screen. It's like the difference between digital and analogue sound or vision. Digital is extremely efficient, manipulable, etc. The latter is much, much closer to humans' own perceptions: we are analogue creatures.

Emma said...

I'm not yet a Mum, so I've got the weetos and uniform days to look forward to (I hope)! I can't imagine how awful it must have been to see your little boy in such pain.

I do agree, I think journals can be extremely therapeutic.

I have had various journals off and on ever since I was a little girl, in fact I discovered one at my parents house when I last visited them. It had a single entry in it which described everything in such patient and tedious detail that it was no wonder I gave up part way through page two, just after I had described going downstairs for breakfast.

After reading the Artist's way, and trying out the Morning pages for a while, I finally found a format that I stuck with. I write my pages longhand, whenever I can fit them in, and I don't give myself a goal or limit on number of pages.

If I ever go through a period of not making just a little time for this exercise, I find it really affects my spirit.

CarolineG said...

Thanks for your comments, both Emnmas!