Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

In praise of Morning Pages April 27, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:22 pm
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“Morning Pages” are a practice suggested by artist and writer Julia Cameron in her wonderful book The Artist’s Way . Basically, the idea is to write three pages, longhand, first thing on waking up.  She describes them as a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self. They are a trail that we follow into our own interior, where we meet both our own creativity and our creator.

The idea is that by connecting with our first thoughts, the thoughts closest to our unconcious mind as we have just woken from sleep, we can make a connection with the things that are most important to us, and with our creativity. Those secret (even from ourselves) hopes, dreams or ideas that can be hidden by our preoccupations, our busyness, our beliefs ablout what we “should” be doing, or by our self-censorship. The idea isn’t to write anything usable on the story, they aren’t meant to be seen by anyone else. The idea is simply to write whatever in in our minds, pure stream-of-consciousness, with no blocking, no censoring, just writing, bypassing the Inner Editor. Some days this may be just a stream of whinges about family, work, or money worries, no brilliant insights. That’s okay, as getting those moans and complaints out the way can clear space for other thoughts. Other days I really connect with something, getting past blocks on a story, or bringing up new ideas.

I have to admit, I haven’t been doing my morning pages consistently, or even “properly”. I have been writing them on my PDA on the train on the way to work in the morning. Some mornings I skip, and purists would say I was putting blocks in the way by typing then not handwriting them, and by only doing them when I had already been up and doing for over an hour. My excuses- it just seemed too hard, given how tired I always am, to get up even earlier and write; and I am naturally a evening person, anyway, so surely evening writing is just as good for me.

But this week, I have been blocked on my story. Part of me was telling myself to just jump in and write with the information I already had from my pre-writing last weekend: another part kept saying No, you need to work out a way around that massive plot hole first, or you’ll only get stuck further in. Even my usual “aha-moment” generator, a long soak in the bath, wasn’t working this week. Maybe because it’s been a particularly busy week at work and I’m working on a challenging project that has been using a lot of my brain (how I wish I could find another job that was a no-brainer but paid the same!) Last night, before I went to sleep, I asked my unconcious mind to show me the best way to deal with this, either make it clear that I should just start writing the story, or show me how to work around the problem, or tell me what else I should be doing instead. Reading lots of yummy published romances, or working through a couple of the writing books on my shelf were other options.

I woke up this morning with one idea in my head, to find my big notebook that is always by my bed but hasn’t been touched for months, and do proper handwritten morning pages, before I spoke to my husband, before I even got out of bed to go to the bathroom. Being Sunday with nothing urgent I had to jump up and do, that was possible. On a weekday I set the alarm for the last possible minute I can leave it until and know I can still make it to my train on time. It means if one little thing goes wrong, from the cat throwing up to my husband being in the bathroom at the wrong time, I’m stressed before the day has barely started.

Well, the morning pages worked- thank you subconscious mind! Half an hour and six almost illegible scrawled pages later, I had what is hopefully the answer to my plot hole problem, which works even better than my original idea as it also strengthens another aspect of the story, makes the villian even more Machievellian, and makes the hero and heroine less antagonistic and brings them closer together as they work to solve the problem.

As I said in my last post, I am trying to source and read first published stories by now established writers.  This week I only had time for one, but it was a good one- Annie West’s first published romance A Mistress for the Taking (Modern Romance) .  Something that struck me about this story (as well as the strong Australian voice, and the sizzling attraction between hero and heroine from the moment they met!) was that the hero and heroine were not enemies, as is so often the case in Modern Romance / Presents stories, but were working together to defeat a common enemy. All that overcoming initial antagonism stuff can get a bit wearing after too many stories using it, and this was refreshingly different, an element I wanted to see if I could include in some of my stories too. Maybe that was in my mind, because what came out in the morning pages today was both a possible soloution to the plot problem with the current story, plus another twist to a similar situation which can make a completely new story in its own right.

A lot of benefit from just thirty minutes I could have chosen to spend sleeping in instead. I don’t expect I will get such great results every day, or even any other day, but I have set my alarm half an hour earlier for tomorrow. I hope I can make myself sit up and do morning pages and not keep hitting the snooze button. Maybe if I do this my wriitng time on the train can be used actually writing story, rather than complaints about being tired and about my job or my husband!

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8 Responses to “In praise of Morning Pages”

  1. Hunter Says:

    Jane, I’m a new writer from Birmingham, Alabama (USA) and I really loved your post on morning pages. I have just started this month on The Artists Way and I’m digging it. I’m in love with morning pages. Three years ago I finished a rough draft of my first attempt at a novel and I have been stuck ever since. A friend told me to use TAW to unstick myself and my God, it’s as if the floodgates have poured open.
    In my novel, I couldn’t get over the fact that I just hated my first 60 pages and I stewed and stewed over them for THREE years. Can you believe it? What a waste of talent! By the grace of God and the fellowship of Julia Cameron’s work and my reborn self, I have begun anew.
    I’ve changed the first scene of my book and I absolutely love it. I have laughed out loud writing it. It is just wonderful, the characters are more real and their relationships between each other are more interesting. I’m really in a fit about this. I would love to hear from you, but I understand if I don’t. So nice to hear what a fellow writer from across the pond is experiencing while I myself am experiencing it too! Peace, blessings, and goodwill always! I know you will get your book published! I guarantee it! Cheers!

    Hunter

  2. I have been following your weblog with interest Jane. Thank you for explaining how morning pages helped you over a hurdle. I can see how the process is useful for tapping into unconscious or yet-unexpressed ideas.

    Sounds like you are making fantastic progress. I wish you well!

    I might have to buy myself a copy of Julia Cameron’s book. It’s hurdle after hurdle in my writing camp.

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks Jodie! I hope my story will move forward now. The Artist’s Way really is a marvellous book- all about nurturing that creative part of us. Its been around for a while now and I have had two copies at different times and given them away.
    There are some good websites and online support groups out there for people using it.

    I know you have so much going on in your life that it is miraculous that you are getting as much writing done as you are! And I think what you are doing is so much harder than writing fiction. It is a totally different challenge, one you are meeting with grace and honesty.

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hunter, it is so inspiring to hear how you have found tools to help your creativity flow so abundantly! If you like your characters and feel their emotions as you write, that is sure to communicate to your readers and create a powerfully engaging story. I just love this whole process of getting into my characters’ heads and hearts and lives.

  5. plaintain1 Says:

    I agree. I start then stop with TAW, read an article like yours and of course feel guilty. A spiritualist told me that my ‘guides’ keep prompting me to write, that I’ve been ‘directed’ to TAW. Why don’t I just get it? I guess my inner critic is so strong: as I begin to write, I can feel something goading me to stop as if telling me I’m not clever at this, and it is only for naturally talented people. It’s just so annoying!! However, I like what you’ve written and do find it inspiring.

  6. Autumn Macarthur Says:

    Plaintain, thanks for your comment.

    I think one of the most damaging things for people wanting to do any creative activity is the myth we are fed about “natural talent”. I gave up writing for years because I had the belief (told to me by my father) that if I was talented, it would come easy, and the fact that it didn’t proved I had no talent and shouldn’t bother trying.

    What a lie!

    Some people find their niche sooner than others, the place where their unique style fits. Some people have more self-belief and confidence so the ideas flow easier because they aren’t censoring and blocking themselves. Some rare people do have a gift.

    I find the 10,000 hour theory immensely reassuring. You know, the idea, that it takes EVERYONE, even the naturally talented, 10,000 hours of practice to truly achieve mastery? That’s a truth I can live with. There is no secret knowledge known only to a few, there is no special talent we either have or we haven’t, it’s a matter of keeping going, putting in the hours. Getting past the self-censorship helps too. It’s just a little easier for the “naturally talented” because they have the belief in themselves to push them on.

    TAW works because both these things are the whole point of the Morning Pages. We write, and we don’t censor. It takes time, but we bypass the inner critic and get to the truth we hold inside us. TAW is one way, maybe you have a different way. If you aren’t doing Morning Pages (I’m not, though I now get up at 5am most days and work on my story), maybe you are doing it a different way. No guilt required!

    Each of us can offer something to the world no other person can- our unique voice and experience. Your blog makes it clear- you can write.

    I think what the spiritualist was telling you is that you are an artist. When we can allow ourselves to believe that, putting in the work becomes easier. We’re less likely to be discouraged by resistance and those inner voices and sometimes the outer voices too if we’re in an environment or with people that doesn’t support creativity.

    I recently read a great little book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Something tells me it might resonate with you too.

    I’m so grateful for your comment, by the way. It’s a gift to me. I was having a discouraged day and now I’m not.

  7. plaintain1 Says:

    Dear Jodie
    What a fantastic response. After reading I feel…that I can exhale. I got up this morning, and before doing anything I wrote two and half pages. I hope that later on in the day I will continue with a story I’ve started. The book you’ve recommended I will buy but I will take the one point that hit me from your response – that I must keep on. I will definitely be coming back to read your work (and your book,when it’s published). Thank you so much and tons of blessings to you!!

  8. plaintain1 Says:

    ps. where can I read more about the 10,000 hour theory…


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