Connect to yourself through the process of writing with morning pages

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

Journaling has been around for centuries. The glimpse into what your past self was thinking allows insight into you change over the years. But it takes commitment and discipline to regularly write until a habit is formed and it becomes a part of your routine. But is it a productive use of your time and what is the benefit of doing it? Especially when you’ve a constant stream of distraction at your fingertips from your phone, with a delicious brain-hit of dopamine.

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Morning Pages are a process where you write 3 pages of continual conscious thoughts by hand, every morning. By hand because typing them will censor you (the backspace key to erase mistakes is too tempting). 3 pages because it takes time to all the small niggling thoughts out the way. In the morning because your thoughts are still fresh and you haven’t got a full day of events to sift through. Julia Cameron says “I like to think of them as windshield wipers, swiping away anything that stands between you and a clear view of your day.” So what then do you write? “Three pages of whatever crosses your mind – that’s all there is to it. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write, ‘I can’t think of anything to write…’ Do this until you have filled three pages. Do anything until you have filled three pages.”

Once you’ve wiped clean, out pops the silent dreams and hidden ideas your subconscious holds. That’s when your gold is discovered. The process teaches your brain to stop overthinking and let your creative brain meander.

“Never skip or skimp on morning pages. Your mood doesn’t matter. The rotten thing your censor says doesn’t matter. We have this idea that we need to be in the mood to write. We don’t. Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you’re doing is just plain junk. The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write.” – Julia Cameron

The morning pages process is a kind of active meditation – you get still, turn inward and practice doing the process on a regular basis. You can’t help but become more in tune to the silent whispers of your heart.

“It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power… the pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self… It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-solutions.” – Julia Cameron.

If you repeatedly write about a love of music, you may become more aware of a desire to have more music in your life. Perhaps you start by listening to more music. A few weeks later you impulsively buy a 2nd hand instrument and suddenly you’re learning to play some notes. But it’s not a sudden decision, it was there all along beneath the surface, you just needed a few nudges to unearth it. Morning pages allows you to uncover those hidden desires and bring them to the surface – if you’ll allow them.

If 3 pages every day feels too overwhelming, start smaller: Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes (or however long you have space for). Sit with a pen and paper and write as quickly as possible without stopping until the timer goes off. Don’t think about what you’re writing, if it’s rubbish or not – just write! Get into the practice of doing this and build up to the 3 pages if you can.

“I give a lot of five-minute exercises when I teach, because I think writing for just five minutes forces you to get out of your own way and lets you off the hook for writing something brilliant. Five minutes – no pausing, no stopping… sometimes you need to let yourself go off into uncharted territory.” – Barbara Abercrombiein A Year of Writing Dangerously

The more resistant you are to morning pages, the more important it is for you try them. Ask yourself why you feel so resistant? What are you afraid of uncovering? Be open to the process so you can revealing some of your own hidden thoughts and gold.

The delightfully simple world of Winnie the Pooh

Written in 1926, what is it about this small bear and friends that keeps it relevant and interesting today? With two recent films based on author A. A. Milne and his creation Winnie the Pooh, (‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ in 2017 and ‘Christopher Robin in 2018) the stories of a bear and his friends continue to be told. Perhaps because the stories are so delightfully simple, focusing on the small things to be grateful for, it reminds us to stay grounded. Because the message of being humble and kind to others is what’s most important and this can have a calming effect on us.

Reading these stories as a child is magical, but so is revisiting them as an adult. Being reminded of the simple joy a bear has with his honey pots, you too can reconnect with your own simple joys. This makes everything else seem much less complex as most things aren’t nearly as important as we make them out to be. What is important is remembering to connect to your simple joys and Pooh Bear shows us how.

“Tigger is all right, really,” said Pooh lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think,” said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

Rushing your evolution

Sparkle_Experiment_Image_blog_201806 02

We can be in such a hurry to be better, faster, wiser right NOW that we don’t realise the full potential of a slow evolution process. In art-making the gap between where you are and where you want to be is even more obvious because you can compare side-by-side what you just made to an artist/designer/creator’s master work in seconds. Ira Glass explains this taste comparison; “Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”

In a word of instant gratification, entertainment constantly available at a moments notice, fast food and next day delivery, we are becoming increasingly more impatient. Can my next level of improvement arrive tomorrow please? What the artists’ work you admire so much doesn’t show, is the rich, diverse and challenging journey it took to arrive at that final piece. Their journey wasn’t straightforward or linear. It was full of failure, uncertainty and making bad art. They once stood where you’re standing and didn’t have all the skills they have now. They committed to consistent practice, showing up and making work that wasn’t perfect. It was a slow evolution of development and growth through practice, but you don’t see any evidence of that when you only look at the final work.

“You can’t rush your hatching. It’s dangerous. The results can be disastrous and take a long time to overcome. So savour the simplicity of your pre-dreams-come-true time. Love the egg you’re in. Because not too long from now – and right on time, you’ll be spreading your wings and life will never be the same again.” – Danielle LaPorte

There is no overnight success or hack to get better. It about making a LOT of stuff and then one day far from now, you realising how far you’ve come. Ira Glass encourages us that the phase of not making good enough work is “totally normal.”

“And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.” – Ira Glass

The volume of making work is key. Even a tiny 2 minutes making something every day adds up to 12 hours a year, which becomes more significant in the future (you may currently spend 2 minutes each day unlocking your phone so it’s not a big investment). If you make work every day and compare what you made on January 1st to December 31st, there will be a noticeable difference.

Make work – make a lot of bad work and don’t rush your evolution because the gold lies in your journey.

In defense of not taking action

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

What if not taking action in the form of forced decisions and ‘busy-work’ for the sake of feeling productive, is actually the best thing you could do right now? Instead of the hustle and forced striving, you went with the flow and followed your curiosities gently, with no sense of rush?

Reading, dreaming, talking about your area of interest is all focus and holds so much power. We underestimate the value in thinking more consciously about how you want to show up in the world and what you want to create. It’s enough to be present and gently focusing. When it’s time to take action, it will feel exciting and you’ll do it naturally.

What could we create is there were no limits or rules and the goal was to follow your joy and pass that message onto others?

“You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic. 

Introversion and recharging your batteries

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The power of Introversion in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she explains the differences Carl Jung defined between introversion and extroversion. “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling… extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being along; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”

It’s often a misconception that introverts will hide away while extroverts are the life of the party. But it’s not about how comfortable you seem socially, it’s about how your energy gets depleted and how you restore it. In an over-stimulated extroverted world where extroverted qualities are encouraged, it’s helpful to know how you get the most drained from your everyday life. The introvert restoration process is a kind of incubation from life – the desire to retreat, to go inward and spend time alone. It can be seen as unsocial but it’s from this retreating process that your energy bars become restored. As Charles Bukowski puts it, “People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”

With many artists creating work on their own, sometimes completely solitary, the skill of drawing from within yourself and making meaning of your world internally is a deep well of inspiration. Cain explains that “Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in two there in the world and the treasures to be found there.”

Michaela Chung in The Year of the Introvert, speaks of her introversion as being a valuable tool for success: “I see that I needed time to grown my inner toolkit so that I could handle the responsibilities and stresses that come with each new level of success.” In a western world that makes a comparison between work and ‘a rat race,’ and ‘hustling’ feels like wearing a badge of honour, slowing down and reflect is becoming evermore important. “Slow down and take your time – the finish line keeps moving until you’re dead; so, you see, there is really no need to rush.”

Not all flowers blossom where and when you want them to. Some plants can only grow under certain conditions… It is the same for introverts. Often, we simply can’t blossom in the soil where we have been planted. To truly come into our own, we need to seek out more solitude and less constant busyness; more meaning and less going through the motions. – Michaela Chung

Even Oprah Winfrey, one our most iconic modern role-models, identifies as an introvert. In her podcast interview with Amy Schumer (March 22, 2018) she shared “I’ve been at parties where I have to get up and leave. I’m just in the bathroom.” The bathroom becomees a place to recharge, a brief rest from the energy-draining experience parties can be. Schumer agrees “[I] Love to hide in the bathroom! Yeah, people are confused about, y’know but how could you get up in front of so many people? I say it’s different and I think when you’re so giving of yourself and your mind and everything, you need to take a break.”

Giving yourself the gift of recharging in whatever way works for you, will ultimately make you a more giving individual.

Picasso and everything is research

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

A turning point in Picasso’s career was when he started to paint more of what he felt, instead of what he saw. Or to “Learn to be clumsy again and get back to basics.” This approach to art-making feels much less restrictive, with the journey being more important than making a ‘finished piece.’ In the book Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973: Genius of the century by Ingo F. Walther Picasso said that “Enthusiasm is what we need most, we and the younger generation.” If you have enthusiasm, you’re more likely to continue to make art and reap the creative benefits.

“Paintings are nothing but research and experiment. I never paint a picture as a work of art. Everything is research. I keep researching, and in this constant inquiry there is a logical development. That is why I number and date all my paintings.”

This idea of everything you make is an experiment – and therefore ‘mistakes’ are a vital part of the process – allows you to create with much more freedom. There are no rules when it comes to making art. Picasso was in favour of the unknown: “If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the good of doing it? Since you know, the exercise is pointless. It is better to do something else.” Allow yourself the gift of making ‘bad art.’ Get clumsy like Picasso and don’t worry if the image in your head isn’t matched up with what you’ve made. Repeated consistent practice is the cure for improvement but that requires you to first get comfortable with being uncomfortably ‘bad’.

“There is never a time when you can say: I have done a good job and tomorrow is Sunday. As soon as you stop, you have to start again. You can leave a canvas aside, saying you won’t touch it again. But you never come to ‘The End’.”

There is no end and everything is an experiment so create something bad. Blind drawings are a good starting exercise to help you loosened up.