Scribble Your Way to Liberation: The Shit Book

Chapter Three: The Three Daily Pages
Use this technique for: a daily practice to clear your head.
Starting point: at the start of three pages.
Ending point: when three pages have been filled.
8:47 AM  Vivaldi, and the usual breakfast.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Were I at the old job, I’d be getting coffee and settling in.  But I’m not, so I’m not.  But I still feel as though I’ve emerged through something.  Or maybe it was just the ugly dreams I had, my brain purging out the sticky worst case scenarios.
Those who have read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (and even quite a few people who haven’t) are familiar with the concept of “Morning Pages.”  Some might also be familiar with Natalie Goldman’s notebook technique in Writing Down The Bones.
This is my personal variation on that particular theme, which you are free to further adapt to your own needs.  (Particularly considering that I came up with these rules by breaking a number of the “rules” for Morning Pages.)
To do Three Daily Pages you should use a lined notebook with standard notebook paper sized pages.  (Roughly 8 ½ inches by 11 inches.  27.9 centimeters by 21.5 centimeters, for those of you dialing in from the metric system.)  Using smaller journals is kind of cheating and using catbook-sized notebooks is really cheating.  You can use cheap spiral bound notebooks or you can even find rather lovely bound books of that size as well.  (I get mine at Borders in the bargain section.  They are magnificent and not that expensive.)
The rules are pretty simple.  Once per day, sit down and free write until you have filled three pages.  Then stop.
How long it takes you depends on how fast you write and perhaps what sort of margins you set for yourself.  (Spiral bound notebooks are often kinder as they provide those little red lines to keep you from taking up too much space.)  I set aside an hour of time to be sure, though most days it runs about forty minutes, give or take.
For some odd reason, I’ve developed the habit of writing down what time it is and updating the time every sixty seconds.  Part of this was to give me something to do when the urge to stare off into space was strong.  Part of it was simply to make me aware of how much time I had before I had to get ready to go to work.  Once I got enough of a stream of words going, I’d stop glancing at the clock and just write.
Traditionally, the pages are done first thing in the morning.  This can be a good way to start the day, transcribe odd dreams while they still linger in the mind and ponder your agenda.  However, if you find yourself running late and don’t have time, you can break the rules in one of two ways.  One is to confine yourself to a single full page if you don’t have time for three.  Another is to do what might be termed Evening Pages once you get home.  I’ve even done odd variations where I’ve done one page in the morning and the other two pages in the evening.  And I’ve done Afternoon Pages in the middle of the day.
However you do it, make sure that your stopping point is the end of a page and not somewhere in the middle.  The name of the game is to force yourself to fill the pages completely, no matter how cranky you feel about it, even if it’s five lines of the words “keep writing” over and over again.  Some days you will fill three pages with ease and want to keep going for a fourth.  Other days it’ll feel like digging a hole with a teaspoon.  The main point is to do it and do it consistently.
So why do we do this to ourselves anyway?  In some ways, it’s something like a meditation practice.  Instead of letting our repetitive thoughts rattle around in our head we can get them out and see if there’s anything we can do about them.  You can do minor venting here (and keep the nuclear level venting for the Shit Book) or brainstorm ideas or just write about the sound of the rain on the roof and the smell of the morning coffee.  You will find that you tend to go about the day with much more clarity if you spend at least some part of the day clearing three pages worth of stuff from your mind.

Use this technique for: when you are really, really, really pissed off about something.

Starting point: when you need to get something off your chest.

Stopping point: when it’s off your chest.

Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you and by the way FUCK YOU.

Free writing is a fine way to vent, to allow those thoughts racing through your head a place to park themselves so you can stop thinking them over and over again.

The Shit Book is all venting, all the time.  The Shit Book is the toxic waste dump for the thoughts you really don’t want to be thinking.  Use it when something is bothering you so much it is physically hurting you and you can feel that odd ache in your chest that won’t go away with distractions or deep breathing.  Use it when you find yourself mentally rehashing past arguments, trying to get that one last word in.  Use it to write the things you wish you could say to someone, but know you’d get in trouble for saying.

My personal Shit Book is a smallish blue spiral bound notebook with a Mr. Yuk-like face scrawled on the cover.  It’s lasted me for many years, since I only haul it out for extreme situations and I have gone for long stretches without needing it at all.

The rules for the Shit Book are as follows:

1.  Confine it to one book specifically for Shit Book purposes.  Do not use your regular diary or journal for this.

2.  Write in pencil.  This isn’t anything you want to preserve for future generations and the last thing you need is your pen to run out when you’ve got a rant going.

3.  Hold absolutely nothing back.  Whoever or whatever you are angry at, this is no time to be polite or reasonable.  They’re never going to read it.  Be as petty, bitter, vicious and selfish as possible.  Throw a tantrum.  Dredge up every insult in the book and add in a few new ones.  Write things you don’t even really mean, but that you want to say because you’re that pissed off.  Write down all the ways you could take revenge if you were that kind of person.  Get every ounce of it out of you.

4.  Be egocentric.  For heaven’s sake, do not use this technique to beat up on yourself!  Place yourself at the center of the universe and everybody else beneath you for the length of this exercise.  Even when you rationally know that you have your own part in whatever mess you’re in, this is not the time and place for acknowledging that.  Blame everybody and everything but you and go to town with it.

5.  Write until the ache dies down.  It may take a paragraph, it may take pages, just keep going until all the venom has been properly purged.

6.  ABSOLUTELY DO NOT REREAD IT.  Put it this way—rereading what you wrote in your Shit Book is like drinking your own vomit.  It came out of you for a reason, and taking it back in is just going to make you sick all over again.  I speak from unfortunate experience on this one—trust me, it is really for the best to leave the words on the page and never return to them.  Turn the book to a new page and put it away for when you need it again.  I intend to destroy my current Shit Book when I’ve eventually filled it out, because there’s nothing in there that needs to be kept.

A variation on this is the Angry Letter.  Abraham Lincoln reportedly used this technique—he would write angry letters and then toss them in the stove to be consumed by the flames.  They’re traditionally directed at people, but you can also direct them at groups of people or even more abstract notions.  (“Dear Educational System . . .”)  The game is pretty much the same as the Shit Book—spew out all rage, hold nothing back, write until done—and then you can sign it, if you are so inclined, and then rip the letter to bits and dispose of it.  Incineration optional.

The Internet would probably be a much calmer place if more people used Shit Books instead of doing the same thing with the “Reply” function.

A revised version of this entry can be found in the ebook Catbooks and Other Methods.

4 comments to Scribble Your Way to Liberation: The Shit Book

What do you think?