Recently my friend Janele and I decided to work through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” together. If you’re familiar with this work, you will have heard of “morning pages,” essentially the task of writing three pages every morning as a way of “retrieving your creativity.”
The first time I read the book and learned about “morning pages” was in 2011, but by then I’d been doing my own take on them for over a year. In 2009, a few other writers in my writing group and I had challenged ourselves to write 1000 words a day. We had gathered at a restaurant for a holiday celebration, around this same time of year.
“What if we wrote a thousand words a day every day for the whole year?” Chris, the group mentor offered up as he passed the breadsticks to his left. The place was dim, everyone’s faces were bathed in a warm sepia tone. “After a year, that’d be 365 thousand words.”
“That’s like three novels,” Brian said, “I’m in!” I agreed to the challenge too, and my way of getting the thousand in came by way of writing what equated to seven pages each day in my journal. I still have that daily habit, though usually my word count is significantly less than a thousand. For a while, I would post along with other writers with the same routine using #continuouspractice as a way of connecting and supporting each other. Over the years, these “morning pages” have become even more valuable to me.
This practice, this is not about being a writer. It’s about being a human. A flawed, imperfect human, practicing, continually practicing. It’s about losing myself and finding myself by losing myself. It’s about taking regular time in my day for me, to slow the pinging thoughts and ideas in my head, sifting through the neurotic ones, letting most of them go, maybe making sense of one or two of them on the page. It’s about acknowledging exactly where I am at the moment, accepting that I have exactly what I need. It’s about expressing gratitude, expressing dissatisfaction, injustices, and joys. It’s about seeing words fill a page and welcoming them all without judgment or agenda. It’s about saying, here I am, another morning, with still so much the same, still so much to figure out, still so much that doesn’t make sense, still so much to do, to say, to be. It’s about having a place to feel overwhelmed, a place to feel stuck or angry or cheated or lonely. Knowing, like pages of the journal, the feelings will turn, another day will come and I face myself again. Whether or not I make it back to the page again tomorrow doesn’t matter, I face myself just the same, but taking my minutes every morning makes that make more sense, or at least feel more manageable.
Being a human is hard. No one ever teaches you how to be a human (for that matter, I don’t think you can ever be taught to be a writer, to be anything). The difference between theory and practice is the work. Theory is knowing, this is a metaphor, this is a conventional dialogue attribution. Practice is, well, feeling those things. This metaphor feels right, this story structure feels more effective in capturing how the experience happened, the emotional register of the moment. I suppose that’s the short answer to “why do you do this?” Because human.
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Meg Kinghorn is the big weirdo of the Ella/Meg Salty City Writing Workshop collaboration. She teaches Creative Non-fiction and Memoir at the University of Utah and gives herself and any other writer crossing her path unmitigated permission to write whatever the hell they want.