This week I downloaded a new e-book, The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron. I’ve read and worked through her well-known program, The Artist’s Way, and after having taken an almost eight-week hiatus from working on my book, I had high hopes that she would offer a new-fangled trick to spring me from mediocre blogger to National Book Award finalist.
No such luck.
And I’m OK with that. In a nutshell, her first bit of advice is….to write. Put the pencil to paper and write three pages. Step away from the computer and don’t worry about banging out lines. She doesn’t call them “morning pages” in this book, but I could easily read between her lines. I needed to journal!
I often suggest to friends in my support group that they try writing in a journal or notebook, especially when they are going through something. Make it a daily habit and give it a whole thirty days. I’m often greeted with a groan or a sweet smile, and nod that ever so politely says, “Sure. I will say I’m going to write, but I hate to journal! UGH!”
I get it. I could totally commiserate this morning. The three-year old is away at the grandparents and I wanted to wake up and write the next chapter of my book, not journal by hand for three pages, wasting those precious free minutes I could be writing something more productive. I felt that Cameron had tricked me into downloading her e-book only to tell me the thing I already know; writing should happen as often as my breath and other embarrassing bodily functions, and that I should just sit down and write.
Then I read The Daily Post writing prompt:
When was the last time you wrote something substantive — a letter, a story, a journal entry, etc. — by hand? Could you ever imagine returning to a pre-keyboard era?
So, as I sat down with pen in hand (I can’t stand the gritty feel of lead scraping across the page, dragging and slowing me down), I realized that morning pages were exactly what I needed. I’ve had events and feelings come up recently that I need to process. They have rented a penthouse in my head and I feel totally ready to serve them their eviction notice. I have no problem putting them on the curb with all their belongings. There are other events coming up shortly, and because I am human I have fears around them….even though they haven’t even happened yet.
I don’t want to blog about it and I can’t find a good way to fit any of it into my book.
That means I’ve walked around with it all. I’ve talked to a few people, but if you talk about it more than twice it seems like you become stuck in the problem and not in the solution. I can talk about things A LOT! My husband has been incredibly supportive, and recently we’ve had some of the best conversations of our relationship. Last night we went on a date night, and it is amazing the kind of bonding that can happen over chips and guacamole and chicken tamales. Outwardly, life is amazing, but I’ve been plagued by feelings of self-doubt, mistrust, anger, and fear.
Thanks to Cameron, this morning, as soon as I began to get it down on paper, and not onto the screen, most of it began to melt away.
I’ve been thinking lately about my responsibility as a writer, and where my professional life and writer life begins and ends. With the attack in Paris, and the blogger flogging in Saudi Arabia, it has been good practice for me to pause and reconsider when I hit publish. The one thing I know that is true for me, is that if my words shall destroy my spirit or the spirit of others, then it is probably best that I not speak or write them.
Words are tricky. Where does one draw the line between brutal honesty and genuine concern? My words can be used as weapons, and it takes a concerted effort to have consciousness of that. They fly so easily out of my mouth.
In the past, writing with rage has served me well, mostly when I haven’t shared it with but only one or two. Penning the seething letter, drawing the caricature, scribbling my hurts and indiscretions against me has all been a healing and cathartic part of my process. There have been many letters that have never known the inside of the USPS office.
Taking a bite out of an apple, that is already bruised and browned, not only tastes bad, but it only accelerates the decay. The missing chunk is irreparable. There is no way to ever mend the nicks and bite marks, and make the mealy meat crisp and fresh again. Eventually the apple rots right to the core.
Some writers risk their lives to write. I might have something I think is important to say, but there are whole nations of people who depend on the pen of one person to secure their freedom. Their words, once written unequivocally remain for all time, and so does the chance that they pay for them with their life.
So a return to morning pages has been good for me. The pen and paper are a sanctuary, and gracefully offer a much-needed freedom from the noise in my head. In The Right to Write, Cameron says;
We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well. We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living.
After putting pen to paper this morning, my spirit feels cleaner and I’m a bit closer to peace. I feel a renewed passion and can’t wait to dive into the next chapter of my book. I understand that it is impossible to always write a happy ending, because life doesn’t work that way, but I mostly hope that someday, my words might be the lifeboat that ferries someone away from the rising tide or their sinking ship.