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