Why I Still Do Morning Pages: Thoughts on Writing & Commitment

I first picked up a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the summer of 2009 when I was fresh out of college with a shiny new degree, a ton of ambition and absolutely no idea where to channel all that writerly energy.

I bought the copy, well used and already written in, at the now defunct Inner Chapters Bookstore on Fairview Ave in Seattle’s South Lake Union (before it had fully morphed into the tech utopia it is today). I remember because I still have and use the bookmark, still crisp and homey, between the pages.

At the time that I made the purchase I was waiting, as I did almost every day back then, for my then boyfriend to get out of work at the school a block and a half over. He was a preschool teacher. We’d met in kindergarten and reconnected in my senior year of college. By Thanksgiving we were dating. By graduation I was all packed up and ready to move back to Seattle from my college home (and four years of Southern California in all its ubiquitousness). A few days later he and I moved into our first apartment together.

Domestication is one of those things that’s easy to miss while it’s happening.

I remember having at the time, at the age of 22, a lot of tumultuous feelings surrounding my chosen profession and the future of my self-proclaimed life’s pursuit. I was looking for work and feeling discouraged (it being 2009 after all, and me being that kid with the fancy and expensive journalism degree that suddenly came with a 40-year payment plan and much less panache that I’d originally been sold). I remember feeling, even then, the weight of all this wasted time.

Feeling powerless against Time (that old bitch, am I right?!) is something most of us suffer from at one time or another. Many of us, constantly. Ask any writer.

So I went in search of a solution and took the recommendation of a great friend and fellow writer to look up this Cameron, this heralded matriarch of artistic expression.

When I asked the women at the bookstore if she had a copy of this coveted volume, this skeleton key to my own writerly wellspring, she looked at me unamused. “Of course,” she said. “It’s a really famous book.” Clearly she was not as emotionally invested in the discovery of this tome––this wellspring, this key to unlocking my true creative self––as I was. In my mind it was monumental––the Rosetta Stone that might just decode my scrambled, convoluted and nonsensical writing future.

I made it past the introduction and all the way to the end of the first chapter, where Julia directs you to straight up sign a contract committing to an “intensive, guided encounter with my own creativity” and the 12-week course she’s designed throughout the rest of the book. I crossed out the signatures and initials of the book’s previous owner, and signed it July 12, 2009.

Six years later almost to the day (on July 10, 2015, just by chance), I signed that contract again––this time, for real, at least I hope.

I’d been inspired to try Julia’s course again because, six years after graduating college and four years after moving to New York, I felt further away from my creative and professional goals than ever. I spent the last four years doing many of the things I set out to do when I first moved to New York––I took improv and acting classes, started working on film and television sets, made some writer friends and began working on quite a few writing projeccts––a television pilot, feature script, and several personal essays. Still, I had gone from being a full-time freelance writer in Seattle, to someone who hobby wrote by day and tended bar by night.

Yes, I was writing, but I stopped publishing, a distinction I would fail to see the full significance of until much later, when that first (non-writing) job “just to pay the bills,” became the fourth, or fifth, or sixth.

I never made it past Week 2 in TAW that first time around. Not long after making the pledge I started working full time, and then two jobs, and then I quickly fell behind and soon enough, just forgot. But when I picked up the book again this summer and read up until the point where Julia’s contract looks you straight in the eyes, I felt my stomach drop at the sight of my own signature. Right there. T’s crossed. Dated July 12, 2009.

Here I was, six years later, and I still hadn’t figured out how to make my writing life work.

While I refuse to fall into the failure trap (it has quite a lot in common with Julia’s “virtue trap“)––and thinking like that will keep you good and stuck for a while––there is something to be said for commitment to the process. That first time around I didn’t commit to TAW, or my own writing, which is what this is really about. Whether you ascribe to Julia’s teachings or not, the course is an exercise in commitment to your craft, and the contract is as symbol of that commitment.

At the time I couldn’t commit––or wouldn’t perhaps, though we’ll never know for sure––to the absolutely necessary daily work it would require to support my writing process and figure out how to effectively and efficiently feed my writer-self. It takes work to be an artist, and even more work for those of us who intend to live by that art. I had been young, and foolish and uncommitted. Maybe even lazy. Or scared. We’ll have plenty of time to get into the psychology of it all later (that’s what’s this blog’s for, isn’t it?!).

The only thing I kept from that first tango with Julia and TAW is the morning pages, which for the uninitiated (or the skeptical) is an exercise devised by Cameron in––you guessed it––The Artist’s Way. The instructions are simple: Write three pages. Every day. Whatever comes out. No judging. No editing. And absolutely no re-reading, at least, not right away. It’s a kind of throat-clearing for your inner artist. It cleanses your palate and slickens the slide for the real work to follow. And for once, it’s a habit that’s stuck. Now I just have to get in the habit of sitting down to do the work that comes after.

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