Morning Pages, Procrastination, and Creativity

Notebook with black cursive writing sits atop an open laptop

As part of my master’s program, I’m required to take an independent studies class each semester. It can’t be a course that is directly related to my primary area of study, which is writing for young people. Lesley University offers courses that run the gambit from travel writing to poetry to writing for stage and screen to memoir writing and more. They also offer a class that isn’t about writing, specifically. It’s about creativity, and the point is to help folks knock down mental barriers and find creative solutions.

It’s called The Artist’s Way, and I picked it as my very first I.S. class to take. Am I ever glad that I did! To help you wrap your brain around what it is, let me quote Carrie Battan from her 2016 article in the New Yorker about the book (the class I took followed the book to the letter).

“…the book is a program designed to help readers reject the devils of self-doubt on their shoulders and pursue creative activity not as a profession but as a form of therapy.”

That’s as good a summary as any. Thank you, Ms. Battan.

Part of the course, a big part, is engaging in daily journaling, what The Artist’s Way creator Julie Cameron refers to as the “Morning Pages.” The goal is to increase creativity by connecting with the dark places in our heads, facing them down and disarming them of their power.  While taking the class, I sat down each morning and wrote three pages of mental stream-of-consciousness stuff into a notebook. I chose to write in cursive because more and more scientific studies show that longhand writing, and cursive writing, in particular, is super good for the brain.

Since taking the twelve-week course last July/August/September, I’ve continued to write my morning pages. My spouse joined me, too, since he’s a fine art photographer and generally creative individual. Together, we’ve worked morning journaling into our lives as a way to boost creativity and also control our general anxieties and stress levels.

Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep because I was worried about this blog project. How much time is this project was going to eat up? Time is my most limited resource. I am stretched more thinly that I can actually see. Only when others point out to me all the stuff I have on my plate do I realize the madness of it all. Parent to two young ones, both of whom were involved in town-league sports this spring, high school teacher, member of a writing group, member of an environmental group, student in a master’s program…

On top of all of that, I am a master of productive procrastination.

When I get overwhelmed, my brain resists dealing with the work that NEEDS to get done by finding and focusing on non-essential work. Sometimes “non-essential work” looks like cleaning my kitchen, or getting caught up on laundry, or vacuuming and dusting the entire house, or re-organizing the bookshelf, or (and this was the thing that was keeping me from my Z’s last night) figuring out WordPress and putting together a personal blog.  It feels like a form of creativity, and I suppose that it is (in a way), but it’s not the primary form of creativity that I’m hoping to nurture.

Did I just generate yet another thing to add to my already ridiculously over-packed plate? Did I unintentionally create a thing that makes me feel like I’m doing something that will help me achieve my goals as a creative writer, but that actually pushes me further away from those goals by siphoning off a little of my most limited resource?

Ah-ha! Solution!

Rather than add this blog project to the long list of things I’m already doing, maybe I can make an even exchange. I can use this as my morning pages, and that way, I won’t be adding anything, just continuing something that I’ve been doing in a slightly different form. Not every day. I can’t give up my long-form writing altogether. It makes my brain feel too good. But a few times a week, in the morning slot that I’ve already carved into my daily routine for journaling, instead of grabbing my fountain pen and my notebook, I’ll grab my laptop and generate my three pages of stream-of-conscious gobbledygook here. It’s worth a try at least.

Do you find yourself crunched for time in your life? How do you make room for it all? Do you ever sabotage your goals by procrastinating? What does that look like for you, and how do you get yourself back on track?

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