Thursday, December 9, 2010

Morning Pages

Cricket McRae

morning pages 1 It’s still dark outside, and the morning star – which is really the planet Venus – precedes the sunrise. It’s very close to earth right now, a bright, shiny beacon hanging at the end of night. I stepped outside to take a look while the kettle heated on the stove, breathing in the crisp air and listening to the deer – or perhaps raccoons – rustle through the dry grass on the other side of the fence.

Back inside, I brewed a pot of Earl Grey. I am the only one awake in the house, save for a purring orange cat. We’re both curled up in a blanket on the sofa while flames dance in the fireplace, and the scent of honey rises from my cup of tea. The computer screen is the brightest thing in the room.

Soon I will put aside the computer and write in my morning page notebook. Remember morning pages? Julia Cameron introduced them in The Artist’s Way, but Dorothea Brande suggested the same thing in Becoming a Writer back in 1934 (still one of the best books out there for beginning writers or anyone who is having trouble sustaining a writing project). The idea is to get up in the morning – every morning – and write without stopping until you hit three pages. The devilish editor on your shoulder doesn’t have time to engage, you develop a habit of writing every single day, and I, at least, find the process ferrets out a surprising number of truths.

Morning pages can be a kind of self-therapy. At the same time, they can lull you into thinking you’ve written for the day. It’s also possible they could sap some of your writing energy, much as I’ve heard some people say blogging siphons off a portion of their creative mojo. How it affects you really depends on how you view the process.

For a year or more in the mid-nineties I faithfully wrote my morning pages as Cameron describes. But over time, I’ve tweaked them to suit my own needs. Doing them first thing in the morning still works very well, but I don’t do them every day. Or even every week. And though on occasion I just want to brain dump or need to work out a problem that requires what I refer to as “thinking on paper,” more often I try to focus morning pages on something in particular. As a result, they’ve turned into a stepping stone that then propels me into my other writing.

Today I plan to write a scene in which a woman encounters a girl she thought she knew in a place she’d never expect to find her. I need to know how that feels – for both of them. I want to think about how this meeting sets the tone for their relationship throughout the rest of the story. It would be a good idea to play with how a recurring theme in the story can flicker through this scene. And finally, I simply don’t know enough about the girl and her background. Focused free writing will help me find these things out.

Sometimes it's a better thing to simply sit down and write. To allow that magical thing to come out of nowhere and flavor or twist what you’ve planned to put on the page. Or even not to plan at all. But this is a brand new character for me, and an important one. In this story, I’m working in a different fictional world than the one I’m used to.

Being able to write about the upcoming scene will afford back story that right this moment I’m unaware of. It’s the same kind of magic, finding the answers to questions and, more than likely, finding more questions to ask. It’s an aspect of getting to know the story that’s invisible to the reader – not simply research, plotting, or character development, but all those and more.

Do you use free writing as a tool either in your writing or in your life? Do you find journaling useful?


Vicki Doudera said...

Cricket, it is always fascinating to see how other writers write. I admire your discipline with the morning pages. I do not journal, although I have at various points in my life. The most I do now is write down the occasional odd dream. I jump start myself by reading over the story questions/goals I have left from the previous day and then I just go until I need a snack, cup of tea, or more wood for the fire.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

What a beautiful post, Cricket. I can feel the fire, smell the tea and sense the coziness of your home.

I've never journaled or done free writing, but I find my most productive writing is early in the morning, almost as soon as my feet hit the floor. It's fresh and unfettered by the cares of the day. Often, I wake up with a vivid image of the next scene of my WIP.

Darrell James said...

Cricket- I've never kept a journal, but maybe I free write in my head. I use that dreamy time between wakefulness and sleep to intentionally visualize scenes in the story. I go to sleep with the characters playing in my mind, and like Sue Ann, I often wake to solutions or even greater clarity for the story.

Before I start a new novel, I do write the complete backstory in simple narrative form (usually four or five pages worth). It helps me stay focused on the motives/direction for the front story.

Cricket McRae said...

Vicki, dreams can be awfully insightful. Must admit, I gave up on the discipline part of morning pages and now just use them when I want to. Of course, that may mean they're not "real" morning pages anymore...

Sue Ann and Darrell, I love how you tap into sleep, or the edge of sleep, to work out scenes!

Keith Raffel said...

No journal, Cricket. I hated exercises when I took writing classes. I want to put my words to work.

Kathleen Ernst said...

The scene you described is lovely, but I'd doze off in two seconds! My "morning pages" are similar to Darrell's, a thought process that takes place before I get out of bed.

Alice Loweecey said...

I journaled in the convent. At the time it was useful. But I've never used free writing. I'm like Keith: My time is so limited, I make every word count.

But I want your lovely, lovely morning time!

Cricket McRae said...

Keith, you've certainly done a good job of putting your words to work!

Kathleen, I've tried to use that alpha time before getting out of bed to tap into the creative process, but I usually just go back to sleep. Maybe I'll have to give it another go since it works well for so many Inkers.

Alice, come on over! I'll brew up two pots of tea, and I have a spare cat, too. ; )

Alice Loweecey said...

Cricket, I'll bring scones. :)