During one of the most creative periods of my life, I used the “Morning Pages” freewriting technique from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a spiritual practice. Since then I have returned to morning pages periodically, and each time they have helped me be more centered and creative.
The discipline of morning pages is to simply write three pages, longhand, as early in the day as possible.
Last month my partner’s sister and I were talking about obstacles to creativity, and the conversation turned to The Artist’s Way. I found myself longing for that headlong, throw-it-all-on-the-page feeling. But the whiney, can’t-do part of me started throwing out excuses. “You don’t have the right notebook.” “You don’t have any pens you really like.” “What if someone finds what you’ve written?” “You don’t like writing long-hand.”
Ridiculous, right? But it made me wonder if there was an online version of morning pages. I went looking, and found 750words.
It really works for me. It allows me to type freely–I can even close my eyes. It’s password protected. It gives me interesting feedback about my writing–how I’m feeling, what words I use most often, even a “maturity” rating.
Yesterday morning before church I was working on my 750 words for the day. My partner has been sick with a fever for days–a reaction to her vaccines for Africa–and I was worried leaving her for the morning. After dithering for a while about all the things that could happen, I wrote this:
God I’m good at catastrophizing. No clue how to really spell that one, but I sure do know how to live it. Part of the problem is that my imagination is too good. I can see bad things happen. I wonder why I can see bad things happening so much more easily than I can see good things happening? Why is my imagination for catastrophe so sharp, while my imagination for success wilts on the vine under the withering glare of self-castigation? Guess I just answered my own question there. Here’s the question: if I could imagine success without destroying its image in my mind, would I be more likely to achieve it?
Eight words later, I reached 750 words.
Last Saturday Doug Muder posted the text of his sermon, “Spirituality and the Humanist” on his blog, Free and Responsible Search. It is thoughtful and thorough, clear and beautiful. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. Here’s the part that applies to what I’m writing here:
For me, the main reason to seek out spiritual experiences is because that gap between experience and description is where all my creativity comes from. My creative process – and I won’t go so far as to say that creativity works this way for everybody, but I’ll bet it does for a lot of people – is to stare into that Gap of the Undescribed until something crystallizes out of it and becomes describable for the first time.
I can be creative without disciplined spiritual practice, but such creativity is highly unpredictable and unreliable. The “spark” may or may not show up. Ideas may be good ones–or may be hare-brained. Spiritual practice turns the sporadic spark into a steady stream of useful electrons.
Different practices hone different aspects of creativity. Freewriting is, for me, like the tuning of an orchestra. At first, the cacophony of voices in my head are like a mix of crowd chatter, violin bows across untuned strings, tentative lips testing a tuba’s mouthpiece, and scales on the grand piano. Patiently the conductor works, section by section, until all the instruments begin working together in harmony. The crowd hears that coming together, and begins to quiet, listening for the performance to begin.
A jumble of thoughts and words and feelings and typos. And then this: What would happen if I could see success like I can imagine catastrophe? How would my life change if I could shield that vision of success from the withering glare of self-doubt?