The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3d ed. 1992) defines “distract” thusly:
1. To cause to turn away from the original focus of attention or interest; divert.
2. To pull in conflicting emotional distractions; unsettle.
By these definitions, I have definitely been distracted lately.
I could rattle on at length about the things that have distracted me from writing, from managing elderly parents to the cat’s dental work, from work deadlines from volunteer commitments, from positive occurrences to less-delightful challenges. But the details don’t matter, only the fact. No matter how you slice or explain or excuse it, I’ve been distracted from writing.
I try to tell myself that of course writing is work. One must simply sit down and slog through. Butt in chair, and all that. The problem is that lately, ideas worth writing have been hard to come by. So when I happened upon a possible avenue, I felt it was worth investigating.
One of the podcasts I listen to regularly when I’m in the car is Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn. Recently, she mentioned Julia Cameron’s classic tome, The Artist’s Way, and specifically Ms. Cameron’s notion of “artist dates.” I promptly headed to the library to see if this book was available. It wasn’t, but Ms. Cameron’s more recent volume, Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance, was on the shelf.
Perseverance definitely sounded like something I needed, so I brought it home and began to read.
The first chapter, “The Basics,” describes not only artist dates, but also morning pages, walks, and a creativity contract where you commit to doing all these things as well as taking other steps toward self-care. As I read, I couldn’t help thinking that it all sounded lovely, but I couldn’t quite picture doing it all. For example, Ms. Cameron describes morning pages as three longhand pages of stream of consciousness, written immediately upon awakening, that “locate us precisely in the here and now.” Was this a journal, or was it something else? More importantly, if I spent time every day writing morning pages, when would I ever have time for other writing? Artist dates sound like a wonderful way to fill the creative well and come up with new ideas, but every week? Not to mention the idea of two short (20-minute) and one long (60+ minutes) walk every week which are apparently meant not only to be outside (so much for the treadmill desk), but times to focus on one’s surroundings instead of, for example, listening to a podcast or talking on the phone.
I figured I’d start slowly, one practice at a time. Morning pages sounded like the easiest way to begin. The next morning, I wrote three longhand pages.
I couldn’t wait to get to the end of my three pages. Frankly, I felt silly, as if I was wasting time I could have spent catching up on news, checking emails, or getting to work on something important. I labored for nearly 45 minutes on morning pages that day. When I finished, I was certain I wouldn’t be doing that again.
Except several days later, I had a particularly vivid dream. I saw pages with scrawled, well-spaced writing. In my dream, I somehow knew it was written by Colette. One particular page with lovely, powerful prose so impressed itself on me that when I awoke, I immediately reached for my notebook and wrote it down as faithfully as it could. I scrawled just as the writing had been in the dream. I held the pen loosely, skipped a line between each line of text, wrote words and phrases and sentences without concern about anything other than putting them down. Whatever came out the end of the pen was fine, words escaping onto the page. No worries about sentence structure, consistent tenses, correctness. Just the lightest of writing, the mind skipping along as the pen sketched words.
Since then, upon awakening each morning, I’ve written my dreams if I recall them. I don’t worry about achieving three pages; sometimes I write more, sometimes less. Sometimes ten minutes, sometimes half an hour. Last night, the dreams were barely memorable, and this morning’s writing was brief. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to write my dreams, but I find that if I go afield, the writing becomes heavier, more concrete, more fretful. Writing the dreams evokes images of gauze, grace, the dancer twirling and leaping. Remembering now, I notice that even my fingers are lighter as I type, as if I were playing on a piano keyboard rather than a computer’s.
(Interesting side note: the Britannica article about Colette to which I linked above describes her “best novels [as] largely concerned with the pains and pleasures of love, . . . remarkable for their command of sensual description. Her greatest strength as a writer is an exact sensory evocation of sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colours of her world.” Until right now, I never saw this article, nor have I ever heard this statement about Colette. And yet. . . .)
I don’t know how long I will continue to write my version of morning pages. I do know that as soon as I turn something into a firm commitment, almost immediately I break it. I’m careful not to date the entries; I separate each with a single dash of the pen, but I also use that when I change topics or dreams within an entry. There’s no recording of when I wrote, only that I did.
If the writing is poetic, fine. If it’s more workmanlike, also fine. Last night’s dreams involved ankle-deep water in my strangely uncluttered basement and an episode of The West Wing (albeit not one that really existed). In noting the dreams, I made no effort to be eloquent. In fact, I ended with this paragraph: “Is this what morning pages are meant to be? Feels more like a journal, which is fine except I don’t see what it’s doing for creativity.”
Which, I suppose, is also fine. Not every day is spent on the mountaintop. Some days, we dwell in the valley, in fog so thick it seems there can be no escape. Then, the path clears—not all the way, but enough for a step or two. Tiny progress, but progress all the same. The path may lead upward, then back down, straight, in circles, wherever. There’s no saying. All I know is that on some days, these early scrawlings seem to be stirring something.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go for a walk.
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Note: Nobody I’ve referred to in this (or any other) post is paying a dime for these mentions. Just saying.