Working the “morning pages” from a digital angle

| April 29, 2013

If you are an artist of any ilk–fine arts, visual arts, writing, acting, singing, etc–you have probably heard of, and perhaps use, Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s an international bestseller based on the concept of writer’s block and the principals of twelve step programs. Cameron wrote the book after her workshop took off, and after she started getting hundreds of letters from folks who had heard of her methods but couldn’t attend her class in person. In the book, she more or less promises that if you follow the twelve chapters of the book (once per week; it’s a three month program) you will break through artist’s/writer’s block and begin producing work at your real potential. There are weekly exercises, and weekly artist dates, and lots of reading, but the core ideology of her program rests on something she calls “Morning Pages.” Basically, you wake up in the morning and write, longhand, three pages of “junk thoughts” out on the page. When you write, you release your negative, inhibitive thoughts. And once those are out on the page, you are free to access your positive creativity.

It sounds simple, and it is simple, and I can attest to it working pretty well. But for me, I have a conceptual or perhaps philosophical confusion about the role of my journal thought versus my morning pages. I write in a paper journal anyway, every day on the subway ride to work. How are my morning pages thoughts different from my journal thoughts, especially if I write both longhand in the same physical book? And more complexly, if I’ve been writing in my journal all along, how will I break through my writer’s block by writing more in the same space? Maybe I’m as unblocked as I’ll ever be already! And that’s a frightening thought.

Enter: 750words.com.  750 is a digital space programmer Buster Benson created on the concept of Julia Cameron’s “morning pages.” Benson suggests that while writing longhand might work for some people, he lives in a digital world and wants to write his words in a digital space. However, he’s tried writing morning pages using a variety of blogging platforms and found them wanting. For one thing, morning pages are embarrassing (on purpose; you need to release your darkest thoughts for them to really work) and so the last thing you want is anyone stumbling across it on the internet. He found it tedious to remember to mark his blog private each time he posted. He also found it unmotivating; one aspect of social media spaces that works well is they are reinforcing. And lastly, he wanted to be able to tag his thoughts and analyze the data to discover trends in his thinking, and you can’t do that on a private blog.

His project, 750words.com, does all of those things. It’s an extremely simple website that only does one thing: hold your three pages of morning pages in a private online digital space.  After you post your words, you can review graphs and charts that analyze your thought patterns. Try not to get too excited about this aspect of the site, because it’s pretty rudimentary, but it does add a fun and dorky extra element to the morning. (But librarians are never dorky!) This morning, for instance, 750 told me I am “happy” about “success” and that my post was introverted, negative, certain, and feeling. Um, okay!

Still, it’s interesting to consider how the same concept (morning pages) can play out so differently in different spaces. I no longer feel conceptual confusion when writing in my paper journal, which is for my “what’s happening” thoughts verses my morning pages, which I now write exclusively online. I absolutely write and think differently in these two spaces. When I want to sort something out, I say, “I’m going to 750 that.” And lo and behold, by the end of the 750 words I usually have a solution to whichever problem I’m facing. My journal does not help me accomplish the same mental feat. I also write out my creative thoughts far more vividly in the 750 than I ever did in my journal. I simply use the paper journal for different purposes. I think the connection might be that the digital space closer mimics the space I use to write creatively. Some people can draft short stories on paper, but I can’t; I have to do it on a computer. My creative thoughts are digital thoughts.

750words.com lives here.

You can pick up a copy of the Artist’s Way at Burke Library: BF408 .C175 1992