Tagged artistry

522 sides of paper – What I’ve learnt from 174 days of Morning Pages

Morning Pages, an essential tool from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, consist of three pages of A4, preferably done in the morning, and are of conscious long-hand thoughts that cross your brain as you proceed to write.

Having done 12 weeks of these as part of finishing “The Artist’s Way”, you’re then encouraged to continue writing them for the next 90 days in a sort of remission like state. I’m just coming to the end of my 90 day stint and felt it warranted a blog of my experiences with them.

The process of writing down everything long as it drifts across your brain to fill three pages doesn’t sound too difficult, or so I thought when I first undertook them. It’s amazing how conscious you suddenly become that you are recording EVERYTHING; soon your stream of thought dries up and you’re left writing “I have nothing else to say. Literally, can’t think of anything.” As with any skill, you adapt and actually realise it’s fine to have these drought like moments. Having a moment of having no thoughts are in fact thoughts themselves. Similarly, this method of notation doesn’t have to be interesting. You aren’t writing to impress or publish. Cameron herself describes these as the lint roller or dust buster vacuum for the brain to clear your head of clutter, and it certainly works.

Morning Pages are an exercise and a safe space. Within that you’re able to achieve quite a lot in just being able to effectively have conversation with yourself – at a reasonable speed so your hand can keep up! – and you’re able to tackle any nagging matters. It’s a space where one is able to gripe and moan and never let the world see, but know you have “exercised your chimp,”, as Prof. Steve Peters of “The Chimp Paradox” would say, and cleared it from your system. Even at times you may find you have been able to debate and come to a more rational conclusion or better perspective.

These three pages of A4 offer a space where you’re able to answer questions, even the most trivial or seemingly irrelevant. Being in a position where I effectively don’t have a solid go-to source for my mentoring and so therefore rely on different networks of people and peers to help me in my development in offering guidance. It’s very comforting to be able to rationalise and expand certain thoughts or queries thoroughly. Note: as thoroughly as your brain will allow before you end up writing things like “I need to buy ______ today” and “Must text _______”

So what have I learnt? Firstly, that my brain manages to sub categorise huge parts of my life and keep them separate, but it’s a struggle to deal with them, and all of their must attend to issues, at the same time. Having gotten into the practise of Morning Pages I find my thoughts are a lot more comprehensible and I’m able to deal with each one much more effectively and succinctly.

Having slowed down my thoughts I also find I’m a lot calmer. Not everything seems to fly into my head at break neck speed, and when things do I can analyse a lot better. Not just at a surface level too. I’m able to identify where these thoughts might have come from and how to resolve any deeper underlying issues. I’m always reminded in this of mindfulness meditations when you’re asked to consciously observe your thoughts, remarking things like “ah, there’s worry”. It has been a helpful process to not only address surface level thinking, but take into account anything deeper that may need resolution.

Have I learned much about myself? Nothing too sensational or epiphanic that I didn’t know before, having now been presented with my thoughts on hundreds of pages of paper. I’m still me, perhaps a more refined version though. I do realise I tend to spread myself too thin and I’m hugely critical (of myself more than anything or anyone else). I think this a battle everyone deals with though, I’ve just not been as aware of it in my own psyche before.

I’ll continue to use Morning Pages, maybe not as religiously. If I miss a day, I won’t beat myself up over it. They are a great way to organise my brain and put me in the best way to start my day. Big issues suddenly seem logical and conquerable and minor niggles are weighed up and soon vanquished.

I’d recommend to anyone, provided they are happy to sit and openly write that they haven’t a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it, and don’t mind sacrificing a few trees worth of paper to do so! It’s a useful practice, give it a try.

CHECKING INTO CREATIVE RECOVERY – A REVIEW OF “THE ARTIST’S WAY” BY JULIA CAMERON

Again, another book always on the recommended reading lists for any creative practitioner or artist, and one of the most talked about. It only seemed right in my own journey of creative evolution that I put myself through the 12 week process to examine my own creativity.

For anyone who hasn’t come across this read, Cameron was a scriptwriter in Hollywood, boasting Spielberg and Scorsese as some of her friends and colleagues. “The Artist’s Way” developed in response to Cameron teaching a class on scriptwriting and her students claiming to have no creativity, and also her own experiences as a artist. It has now taken on its own following, spawning many follow on works and groups around the world….

The book compromises of 12 chapters of working weeks, each focusing on a different aspect of your creativity or existence as an artist. Each contains essays written by Cameron exploring deeper the topics being spot lit that week and then some following homework.

Included also are a few rather lengthy chapters of introduction which set up the whole context for what you are letting yourself into and introducing two key concepts that come into use throughout the book: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Morning Pages are three A4 pages of conscious thought, written longhand, preferably done in the morning. An Artist Date sets aside few hours each week in which you indulge your inner artist in something you want to do. Some of mine in the last few weeks have included baking, walking, painting whilst listening to favourite album, walking around a food market, visiting a gallery, the cinema the other side of London to see a very obscure choice of film.

In speaking to colleagues informing them I was working my way through “The Artist’s Way” it was interesting to see that many had rebuked the idea, trying it in the past and stopping after a few weeks in finding it not very helpful. Admittedly this undertaking isn’t for the faint hearted, some weeks with Morning Pages, Artist Dates and the homework set, it can be quite time consuming. Cameron also asks you to delve into the dark corners of your mind and confront a few home truths which can be quite uncomfortable. I stuck with it though partly because so many people had claimed to have such success with the book; I was determined to do all 12 weeks as a promise to my own development (even if I took nothing away from it I would be able to say I’d done it and able to talk about it from an educated perspective

To clarify, Cameron hopes that in undertaking her course you rediscover your creativity, or further indulge in your creative tendencies. I expected it to be very different to what it actually is. Whilst expected tasks like collages and drawing are included, there’s also quite a lot of analysing, making lists, comparing and documenting. I wonder if this is why some of my colleagues struggled with it, it doesn’t immeadiately scream “this will make you more creative!”. What it does do, and I only realised this as I was coming to the end of the 12 weeks, is present you with a huge amount of evidence about yourself and gives you permission to explore realms of possibilities you may rule out in the day to day running of your life. It’s an excellent way to gain a distanced perspective of you as a whole person, from an honest and well rounded point of view.

12 weeks is a long time and I can’t say I enjoyed what was asked of me every week. I had to bear in mind that it’s a process that has been devised and refined for a specific reasoning to cause effect. Overall, take it with a pinch of salt and read into it what you will. Cameron refers to God in the book quite often, but you don’t need to believe in such a concept or be religious, I certainly don’t. Cameron merely asks you to believe in energy greater than you and that I can get on board with – this book is about opening up to possibilities, the world and energies around you and letting yourself channel them.

Can I say I am more creative for having done it? I don’t really know, I wonder whether it’s a bit like going to the gym; you rarely notice the small changes as you are living them day to day. I can say though this book has provided me with some excellent tools which I will be using again and again, and also a more open minded approach to thinking and problem solving. There are also some excellent essays penned by Cameron that I will be re-reading as resources and means of support on aspects of living a creative life, or life as an artist. (It’s as good as turning up to Artists’ Anonymous once a week)

I’d recommend “The Artist’s Way” to anyone, whether they were wanting to pursue a creative lifestyle or not, it’s a really delightful journey to reconnect with yourself and your key values. You emerge from the 12 weeks a better, more coloured-in version of yourself. For those of you wondering, and maybe have read the radical changes that some people have made in their lives after doing this book, divorcing partners, selling their belongings etc, there’s very little in this book that asks you to completely change your world. Moreover, it merely asks you to reconnect with yourself and harness the power of possibilities.

HABITS… ALL PART OF THE PROCESS?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about habits. By habits, I mean ingrained ways of thinking or processes that seem to happen on autopilot. Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit”  – which I have to say is an excellent read if you are interested in psychology and self improvement – breaks down the habit into a three step process.

A trigger is fired in reaction to something else. This trigger usually happens because of a want or desire (not necessarily a positive one) and results in an action. This culminates in a result. More often than not, both trigger and result are psychological and the action is physical. It isn’t necessarily as clear cut as 1, 2, 3, hey presto, something happens. The action may also occur at the same time as both trigger and result, i.e. sucking your thumb which nurtures and comforts and feeds itself on a sort of cycle.

In this instance the word “habit” seems to only relate to smaller action, and I guess that can be said of all habits really. What is interesting is the greater effect of them.

Twyla Tharp in her book “The Creative Habit” – which I have to re-work through at some point – talks about the elements of her creative process and her approach to work, her “habits” if you will, as “rituals”. I think has a lovely sense of ceremony to it and puts a great deal of importance into the creation of work. Again, these seem to be smaller actions though which relate to a larger effect within a process. For instance, Ms Tharp, a former dancer turned choreographer, likes to begin her day with an intensive work out at the gym, to condition and reconnect with her body. Is the habit that she likes to go to the gym? No, she argues. Her habit and ritual is the fact that she steps outside her New York apartment and orders a taxi to take her there. Small action, large result.

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This process for Ms Tharp sets her up for the day before she attends rehearsals, however it is part of her autopilot system that allows her to create work. In this sense, I guess this is why I have also been thinking about habits, habits that go into the creative process or into the creation of work. Reason being, I don’t feel like I have any!

For design work, I have approached every project differently. In performance, I have never had a standard warm up that I have done at the start of every working day. I have always tailored what I am doing to what I think is the most suitable thing to the project – to what the work needs. On the plus side, at least it means I am adaptable. Negatively, the inner artist inside me wails, “What is my process?!”.

Perhaps this in itself is a habit. I have the habit of preparing – however arguably I would have thought every creative practitioner must engage in some kind of preparation before undertaking a task. If they don’t, I would hope it would be a part of the process and a well judged opinion not to do so!

Within preparation though, I can’t argue I have any habits. I seem to do with what I and the work need. I know of designers and visual artists who seem to go through what I would describe as a Pinterest immersion period, where hundreds of images flood boards and are shared with various collaborators. Directors who, no matter what the piece, will find and read an extensive list of reading material. Visual artists who immediately go wild with a camera. Movement specialists who have done the same warm up for 10 years. These are the rituals these practitioners have in their preparatory phase. Over my time making work, I have done all of these things, but none of them religiously. That if to remove this from my process, I would be lost.

As I advance through this stage of creative development, I am paying close attention to what I do and what I don’t do. Maybe this is why my work to date has been so varied, my habit is to adapt and find new appropriate habits to make the work flourish.

Let’s see, shall we?

Some further reading, in case anyone fancies it.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Habit-Learn-Use-Life/dp/0743235274/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695879&sr=8-1&keywords=creative+habit+twyla

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Habit-Why-What-Change/dp/1847946240/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695903&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+habit