Some writers become discouraged by the Morning Pages practice: It can feel like running on a treadmill to nowhere, never sure if you’re making progress.So how do you know if you’re ‘doing Morning Pages correctly’?
This morning when I had a realization that might convince you to try (or enjoy) Morning pages, yourself.
Do you write Morning Pages?
Julia Cameron popularized this free-writing practice in her book The Artist’s Way and many writers swear by it.
The idea is that you write 3 pages of no-obligation, possibly-stream-of-consciousness ‘stuff’ every morning, to warm up.
But some writers become discouraged after doing Morning Pages for a while. It can feel like you’re running on a treadmill to nowhere, never sure if you’re making progress. So how do you know if you’re ‘doing Morning Pages correctly?
I’m sporadic with the ‘morning’ part of Morning Pages, but I do tend to journal most days and/or free-write before I try to write anything ‘proper’.
That’s what I was doing this morning when I came to a realization that I thought you might enjoy sharing. it might even convince you to try Morning pages, yourself.
Julie’s Morning Pages 21 Jan 2022
I am at my desk and facing the classic writers’ dilemma: there is so much I could work on. I can feel the clock ticking away the minutes I have carved out for writing and the first stirrings of panic bubble low in my chest.
I want to write. I don’t want to waste this precious moment but the task seems so huge—and it is! I either find my way back into a dormant story or begin building a whole new world full of decisions about the world (is there gravity? Are we even on earth? Which Earth? When? Where?) and people with full, complex histories before we meet them on the page. And then, how do I make something interesting happen, and keep happening?
The whole thing weighs on me like heavy cloth and I begin to feel the gravitational pull of busywork, the need for the affirmation of a thumbs up or little red heart on social media (It’ll just take a moment to check and I might get an idea for a story!) or perhaps it’s time I learned to use Scrivener properly—whatever that means. (I’m sure I bought a whole course on that.Surely when I have mastered a new tool, THEN it’ll be easier to write…)
Luckily for me, I have been pursuing my writing goals with a will for over a decade now and I know, beyond a doubt, that my only hope of doing anything like ‘good writing’ rests in one practice:
Here at StoryADay I talk a lot about the importance of not just starting, but also finishing your work.
Finishing (and sharing) your stories allows you to improve your craft with words, but just as importantly it helps you get to grips wiht your process as a writer.
You might wish you were the kind of writer who could get up at 5 o’clock every morning and write 2,000 words and then get on with your day. And maybe you can white-knuckle it for a week or two.
But maybe your process is different.
And would it be so terrible if you allowed yourself to start with what comes naturally and build on that?
My Customary Freak-Out
I’m preparing a new workshop and was getting discouraged about my apparent lack of progress.
I had a little freak-out as I sat down at the blank page to make myself start work on the outline.
Then I laughed.
Because the words ‘customary freak-out’ popped into my head and I remembered that this isn’t new. This is my process when i’m creating anything new, whether it’s a workshop, a story, or a whole course.
It goes like this:
Come up with an awesome idea
Mention it to people, who say ‘yes, please do that’.
Do loads of research and get excited.
Back away and look at my project only out of the corner of my eye.
Berate myself for procrastinating
Have a small freak-out
Realize that what looked like procrastination is actually percolation and what looks like me backing away from the work is actually me backing up, so I can see the whole thing clearly.
Sit down to create The Thing, and have it pour out of me in one messy-but-promising first draft.
Revise and polish and get excited all over again.
Deliver the thing. Have a blast. Help people.
The Upside of Knowing Your Process
Since we’ve been through this before, my brain has started to move the ‘freak out’ date further from the delivery date (thanks, brain!) so there’s more time between the messy first draft and the production copy.
But it has only done this because I’ve finished and delivered things (workshops, essays, books, articles, speeches, launches) so many times before.
You Can’t Be Someone Else
I envy people who can work on a project for an hour a day for a month, making steady progress. That doesn’t seem to produce my best work, or make me happy.
I’m reluctant to say that I can’t change that, because clearly things can change. I’m not pulling all-nighters. I’ve discovered I can work at any time of the day, not just my beloved vampire-hours. Mindset controls a lot.
But I suspect that working with, rather than against, our natural inclinations, makes for an easier route to productivity. My process isn’t all rainbows and sprinkles, but it works for me.
Finding Your Process
Your process may be different from mine (I hope it is!) It very likely is.
If you think you don’t have a process, it may be that you’re not paying attention OR that you’re not finishing and ‘shipping’ products.
There is an inherent stress in making all the decision needed to call a piece ‘finished’. There is anxiety in showing it to people. You’re raising the stakes. But raised stakes cause us to pull out all the stops. Extra effort builds muscle. The adreneline rush of promising to show your work makes you strive to do your best work.
The more often you go through the whole process of producing and sharing work, the better you will your own process.
And the sooner you can recognize your process for what it is, stop fighting and start tweaking it so that you can produce more, get more creative, and be more fulfilled.
Have you noticed what your creative process is? What do you do that other people might not recognize as forward progress? Leave a comment!
Have you ever lost an afternoon reading all about how to market your novel…before writing the novel, never mind figuring out how to revise or publish the thing?
Or figuring out if you should take part in the latest writing challenge all your friends seem to be doing?
Or maybe you spent way too much energy deciding whether to invest in a new writing workshop or class instead of buckling down and practicing our creative writing skills.
Yeah, me too.
Instead of trusting that the work we’re doing will inevitably lead to progress, we get distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome!
But going down endless rabbit holes will leave us no closer to our goals than we were before.
In fact, it can leave us overwhelmed, discouraged and stalled.
How can we make the courageous choices that really lead to progress in our writing life? And how can you decide if that new writing course, challenge or book is Shiny Object or a Shiny Opportunity?
Spend Some Time With Future-You
What do you hope for when you open a new book about writing, sign up for a course, or embark on a new writing project?
You don’t just hope to complete the course, or the book or the challenge.
When tempted to try a new Shiny Object, you probably build an image in your head of Future-You, a you who has unlocked something with a magical key that is this Shiny Object.
What does Future-You look like? Happy? At ease?
When they sit down to write, does it feel inevitable that they will write and write well?
Hope motivates us to learn that new thing, take that new course, or start that new project: the hope that we will become the writer we’ve always wanted to be.
And that this Shiny Object will be the one that gives it to us.
And it maybe it will be, if we do it properly
(Download the workbook for some tips on how to do that).
But sometimes it backfires and we end up discouraged, and no closer to our goals than we were when we first caught sight of the Shiny Object.
The ABCs of Learning The Writing Craft
We can’t absorb everything at once, nor can we progress faster than we progress!
When considering how to learn the craft of writing, we should do it with care.
What are you trying to achieve?
Ask yourself when do you want to achieve it by/when you will reassess and see how much progress you’ve made?
Ask yourself what resources you already have on tap? A bookcase full of books on writing? The StoryADay site’s prompts, feature articles and podcasts? Online courses that you have signed up for but not completed? Course notes from conferences and courses you took in the past?
What wealth is hidden in those treasure chests?
Might you find the answer to ‘how should I show that my heroine’s heart is breaking, without saying that?” in one of those resources?
Sometimes we’re tempted by Shiny Objects because of our own lack of confidence.
Can you become your own best cheerleader and give yourself permission to keep working on what you’re working on now?
What do you already know how to do well?
In writing – what are you doing when writing seems easiest?
In life – and how might those skills support your writing. Are you already an expert organizer? Can you schedule (and stick to) writing/learning time on your calendar? Are you excellent at connecting meaningfully with other people? Can you use that to write powerful emotional scenes? Or are you the one people trust to set up writing dates, for accountability?)
Now that you’re feeling secure in the skills you already possess, you should be able to more clearly assess whether or not you really need the Shiny Object and whether it’ll really help you, right now.
A Process For Investing In Yourself
Sometimes, of course, a great opportunity comes along: a teacher you’d love to work with, a writing challenge that seems exciting, a book recommendation that you can’t stop thinking about.
Sometimes taking advantage of those opportunities is the right thing to do.
How can you tell which Shiny Objects are actually Shiny Opportunities?
Don’t stress, I’ve got you covered. Here’s the StoryADay Shiny Object Decision Flowchart. Go through it any time you need to make a decision. But, before you go, download the free workbook that goes along with it and expands on each of the flowchart questions.
Download the StoryaDay Shiny Object Workbook now (with bonus Decision Flowchart!)
Download this flowchart and the accompanying workbook now
Leave a comment: what Shiny Object/Opportunity were you most recently wrestling with? How did you make your decision? How did it work out?
I found this in my Free Little Library the other day and it prompted a powerful lesson that I thought I’d share here as advice for writers. If you’re struggling to write and wondering if you’re any good, Snoopy has a lesson for you.
This guest post, from Michele Reisinger, combines the wisdom of many of the StoryADay Superstars. Make sure to leave this open in a browser for the people in your life to ‘accidentally’ read! 😉
My husband would deny it, but he is a romantic at heart.
We’re all struggling with the effects of pandemic pandemonium, but recently he’s given me some pretty awesome gifts that have not only helped me cope with our “new normal,” but also develop a writing practice that will last far beyond this shared crisis.
Even better, while their value to me is priceless, their cost was almost zero. As writer Chari Schoen points out, “Sometimes it is just the little things” that mean the most.
So, what are the most romantic things you can do for the writer in your life?