Tag Archives | Julia Cameron

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-degradado-1280-300x240Keep calm and carry on.  The saying is a cliche of the highest order by now, its initial message as positive propaganda during World War II long since co-opted for commercial purposes.  But for some reason it popped into my head a few days ago and wouldn't leave.

Maybe because my life has been anything but calm lately and I'm struggling to carry on with my writing. I'm not complaining, mind you.  Life is hectic because I went on vacation, I've got obligations to friends, family, and community, and oh yeah, work.  All of which I love.  But none of which are especially conducive to getting words on the page.

And there's something about the keep calm and carry on message that is, well, calming.  It reminds me of another favorite saying, from the late doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmerman (also a Brit): Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.  

We could amend that to Write on with confidence and hope, through all crises, don't you think?

Yeah, but how?

One of the stories that stays with me from the time years ago that I went to a creativity workshop with Julia Cameron was how she wrote during one of the worst times of her life, thus coining her phrase, keep the drama on the page.  And she had drama then, yes she did.  Her then-husband, Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) was cavorting around Europe with Isabella Rossellini and friends were helpfully sending her press clippings about the scandal.  (This was, gasp, pre-internet days.) And yet, as I recall, she credited this with one of the most creative periods of her life.

Again, how?

Here are some ideas that I've been drawing upon the last few days as I work myself back into a regular writing schedule.

Start with the breath.  In moments of busyness or anxiety, you've become apart from yourself.  The fastest way to get centered again is to take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Stop, take a breath, and connect with yourself (or whatever source you believe in, if you prefer).  Are all the things that are making you frazzled and anxious really that important? Take another breath.  Probably they aren't, huh?  You are still here and still breathing and all is well.

Make writing a priority.  No matter what all else you have on your agenda, make writing your priority, as if its the most important thing in the world, above even the most beloved thing in your life.  (Wait, writing is the most beloved thing in your life, right?)  Act as if your very life depended on you writing. Because, for your sanity, it does.  And sometimes, you just have to set aside everything (yes, everything) else and do it.  And when you have this mindset, you will be able to:

Let the world fall away.  All those items on your to-do list will still be there waiting for you after you've written.  And your life is not going to fall apart if you take a few minutes for yourself.  Really, it's not.  I am reminded of a TV ad for some kind of chocolate from long ago, which featured the image of a woman happily biting into a piece of candy.  In the background, you heard a bell and a child's voice saying, "Hey Mom, phone's ringing."  But Mom clearly didn't care–she was savoring her chocolate. And you, too, will be savoring your writing.

Know That You Have Enough. You have enough time, enough money, enough energy and enough focus to do this.  The ingrained cultural message we constantly hear is the opposite–that there's not enough time, money or energy for anything.  (By thus playing on our fears, they can sell us stuff that will supposedly plug the "not-enough" hole.)  So often when I think I don't have enough time, I stop and remember that I do–and voila, things fall into place.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.  I think this is the modern-day heart of the keep calm and carry on message.  I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm frazzled, I'm also busy berating myself–because of course, it's all my fault I'm in this situation.  (Remember, I'm not enough.)  And so taking a minute to listen to the terrible things you are saying to yourself can allow you to stop it.  And thus make space to take a breath, calm yourself–and get back to your writing.

Those are some of the things that help me.  Nothing earth-shattering, but then the practice of writing is all about the small decisions we make to commit to the page, over and over and over again.  What about you?  What helps you keep calm and carry on?

For more information on the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, here's an interesting blog.  And, good old Wikipedia has a lot of history on it here.

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Review: Artist’s Way Toolkit

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of Julia Cameron.  I've done the program laid out in The Artist's Way on my own and in groups led by Julia herself (in Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite places on earth).  I think that Julia's work on creativity is seminal and that nobody has beat it yet for its sheer power to get people creating.  I also believe that every writer and artist can benefit from her book.

So I leapt at the chance to review Julia's new site, an online collection of tools from the book.   There are all kinds of interactive goodies here, including a daily quote from one of Julia's books, such as "The reward for attention is always healing" and your choice of creative affirmations from Julia, like, "I love others for their true selves."

The site is cleverly laid out like a notebook with tabs featuring:

  • My Contract
  • Artist's Dates
  • Artist's Way Exercises
  • Creative Pages
  • Creative Notes

You'll notice that "Creative Pages" and "Creative Notes" both feature blank pages which you can fill with your own words, but there is not a space anywhere for Morning Pages (three pages written stream of consciousness first thing in the morning).   This is because Julia believes that morning pages should be written by hand, because the hand has a direct line to the brain and that is lost a bit when you introduce a keyboard to the mix.

There's a few more links across the top of the notebook, one called "My Creativity Library," which leads you to a page of where you can buy Julia's books.  Smart marketing. 

I really wanted to like this site and was excited to play around with it, but honestly, I've been less than thrilled with it overall.  The main value of it that I can see is access to the affirmations, quotes, soundbites and exercises. For some people who like to do creativity exercises on the computer, it would be a boon, but I'm old fashioned and I like to write them out by hand, just as I do morning pages.  And it is a bit of a shame that you can't do morning pages on the site, as they are one of the most vital parts of Julia's program.   Overall, I'd be nervous that all my notes and ideas that I'd collected on the site would be lost if I forgot to resubscribe or decided not to.  I'd rather keep such things in a journal where I know I can access it.

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think about it? 

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Guest Post: It’s Between the Page and I, 6 Things I Learned Over 10 Days of Morning Pages

While I'm on retreat, I've got a variety of guest posts for you.  Today, please welcome Resham Khiani, as she writes about morning pages.

It's Between the Page and I, 6 Things I Learned Over 10 Days of Morning Pages

by Resham Khiani

It's 8:00am on Saturday morning.

Another long, hard week in London has come to an end and I'm looking forward to a cosy lie in…. until the challenge I've set myself bursts my bubble.

For 10 days straight, I will be doing my Morning Pages Exercises. For those of you who are new to hearing it for the first time, they are an exercise devised by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. The concept is basic: write three long hand pages, non-stop once you wake up in the morning. It doesn't matter what you write, just write…. even if it's line after line of "I don't know what to write,"  your subconscious mind will kick in and messages will appear.

Bleary eyed, I made my way to the kitchen, prepared a green tea and grudgingly sat at my desk. "I'm too tired to write" – the voice of sabotage has arrived. I gently say to shut up or I will smack it (I know, I know, it's weird, how on earth can anyone smack their conscious mind?!). A sip of green tea and my hand begins to glide, almost insanely, within seconds. Scribbling messily, sloppily, uncontrollably I see I'm just whinging and moaning about all the things in my life. I'm fed up, tired, can't be bothered and don't want to take responsibility of my life.

But then, I feel an urgent message coming along, something profound, almost spiritual. I'm alert. I'm ready: "Do you remember what it was like to fall in love?" Before I answer this message, my subconscious begins misbehaving and complaining how annyoing my flatmate has become. It begins hatching a plan all by itself, with me, merely being an onlooker with no say. All I know is, the retalation is quite harsh. And then I hear: "muhahahahaha." Note to reader: writing down the evil laugh diminishes it's effect.

Each day, of course, was a battlefield with the mind. Getting up on time to actually do the exercise was a challenge; however, I remained disciplined throughout. Looking back at my pages, I could see myself swinging from exhilarating happiness, to downright depression, to simmering, passionate feelings and finally spiritual, optimistic statements. The Morning Pages revealed so many messages in a short space of time. And they were:

1) I write a lot about sex, so much so, I make myself blush after I finish reading it! (I blame the Mills & Boon romance books I read on a regular basis, whereas Sigmund Freud will blame me for suppressing my natural instincts).

2) I goad myself to set up my own business, based on NLP and helping woman change their beauty beliefs.

3) I have a depressive and philosophical streak in me enough to put Milan Kundera (author of The Incredible Lightness of Being) to shame.

4) Apart from being depressive, at the base of it, I'm optimistic, and realise I have the power to direct my thoughts.

5) I question myself too much: I live too much in the future or past,without fully being present.

6) I am a diva.

Putting ink on paper, coupled with honesty is a revelation to oneself. Morning Pages have switched on my intuition, my creativity, my belief of trusting myself. I realised I had fallen out of love with my life and my creativity – hence the reason why I got such a message. As a result of being persistent with the exercises, I no longer walk around with a feeling of frustration or anger because I've dealt with it on paper. I'm free from negative emotions and drama. Funnily enough, my life has become simpler, more fun, opportunities are flowing, inspiration is soaring. I'm writing a lot more, I've got a few romantic dates lined up and certainly feel life is on my side. Perhaps getting up on the first morning really was the beginning of a new life……

Resham

 

Resham Khiani (on the left in the photo) is the founder of InnerBellissima blog, devoted to helping
woman change their beauty beliefs. She writes regularly on her blog.

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Process or Product?

I recently found a pillow I made ten years ago, when I attended Creativity Camp led by Julia Cameron, ProcessPillow author of the Artist's Way (as if you didn't know that).  The camp was great, life-changing, really, particularly in that I met a couple of people who I remain friends with to this day.  The way it worked was that Julia led us through Artist's Way activities all morning and in the afternoon we could take our choice of classes–yoga, performance tips, drumming, and painting.  Or one could head into town (the camp was located in Taos, New Mexico) or stroll about the gorgeous land. 

I did a little of each, and one afternoon landed in the painting class, in which we painted pillows.  Freshly inspired by the morning's activities, I wrote one of my favorite sayings of Julia's on my pillow: Process is Everything, Product Happens.  As my late mother would say, clevo, huh?

Back in those days I was still a bit of a dabbler at writing.  I'd been working on fiction off and on for years and done a little free-lancing.  I'd not gotten my MFA, nor ever done any ghost-writing or copy-writing.  And I believed fervently in the saying on my pillow, that if only I remembered to focus on process, everything else would follow.

I think I still believe in that, but I'm not sure.  I know for a fact that when I sit down these days to write fiction, if I worry too much about the end result–the product–I'll cramp up and not be able to write a word.  Conversely, if I don't have some idea of what I want to write, some structure in mind, I'll not be able to write, either.  Or, more to the point, I write too much, allowing myself to meander through all kinds of tangents.

Process is pure creativity, writing fast, free writing, not stopping to think.  It is bliss when it happens.  And I advocate going for this kind of free and fast writing whenever you possibly can. 

But there comes a time when you have to put product first.  I can hear the gasps of horror coming from you, and I'm ignoring them.  When I sit down to write a book for a client, I have to put product first.  Number one, I'm being paid to produce a product.  Number two, if I don't have a clear image of what the client wants, the project is sunk from the start.  So most of my projects for clients start with product upper-most in my mind.

However.

Once I get the product firmly in mind and know exactly what I'm writing, then I can head for process land.  Because the writing process for clients is no different than it is for myself–write a rough draft, and then follow it with successive drafts that get cleaner and clearer every time.  And, for me, the only way to get a draft out on paper is to let it rip.  To go wholeheartedly into process, trusting that the product will follow.

I think the product/process conundrum is a bit chicken and egg-ish.  One can't exist without the other and they both have their place.  So, maybe I do still believe in the message on my pillow.  Or I would if it had some good editing.  But try as I might, I can't think how to change the saying to make it more pertinent.

Any ideas?

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Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

 
Yesterday, in Part Three* of my series on journaling, I wrote about four types of journal writing that I findGlasses_sheet_paper_260712_l useful.  There are an infinite number of techniques you can use for effective journaling, and I may well write about others in the future.  But for now, I've chosen to discuss the ones I use most often and find most beneficial.

Morning Pages.  First off, we have Morning Pages, developed and popularized by Julia Cameron in her seminal book, The Artist's Way.  You've probably read about or heard of Morning Pages, or MPs, as I like to call them, one way or another.  Morning Pages are simple–you get up, head to your journal, and write three pages, no more, no less.

Your first reaction to this idea may be similar to mine–horror at the idea that you're supposed to get up and write first thing.  I think this springs from the notion that writing is hard, and it takes thought, and if your brain is not yet awake you won't be able to think and thus write. 

But that is also the point–that you bypass the conscious, critical brain and just let the words flow onto the page. This is good for a number of reasons:

1.  Because it gets you used to just letting the words rip.  Getting into the flow of putting words on the page is excellent training for writers.  And, like any other profession, writers need to train.  The way the writing process works is this: first you glump all the words out onto the page in one glorious brain dump.  Then you rewrite.  And rewrite again.  And rewrite again.  And…well, you get the idea.  But if you are hesitant and shy with your words, you'll never get the wonder of rough draft onto the page and thus never have anything to work with.  So, you can consider Morning Pages to be part of your training.

2.  Because it familiarizes you with your subconscious.  And what a trip that is.  By writing Morning Pages, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, perhaps that what you really want to do is study classical music or kayak around the world.  Or whatever.  Why is this important?  Because, here's the deal: the number one, most important thing for a writer is to be yourself on the page.  That's what voice is about, people.  But being yourself on the page is nearly impossible is you don't know yourself.  So write MPs.  You may astound yourself with your brilliance.  And even if you don't, you are engaging in a valuable activity, in and of itself.

3.  Because fascinating trends emerge when you aren't looking.  You know how John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" So too with MPs.  It may never have occurred to you that kayaking was something you wanted to do, until you find yourself writing about being on water–again.  You may never have thought you wanted to write poetry–until it begins to emerge in your MPs.  And so on and so forth. 

4.  Because MPs allow ideas to pop like crazy.  I've written outlines for whole novels while scribbling MPs and groggily reaching for my coffee cup.  I've had ideas for blog posts, characters, scenes in projects I'm working on, you name it.  Things emerge when you are half asleep and your conscious mind is not yet engaged.

So give them a try.  The rules for MPs are very similar to the rules for free writing.  Just write, don't worry about sentence structure, grammar, or whether you are making sense.  Just write, write, write.  Three pages, no more, no less.  Go for it.  And let me know how they work out for you.

Anybody have any experiences with Morning Pages they would like to share?

  1. *FYI, you can read Part One here, and Part Two here.  And please, please, please also go here and sign up for the free coaching sessions I'm offering.  I've added new times for the first week in January.
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Techniques for Writing Flow

The Big, Scary Beast and the Ancient, Frail Feline are both asleep (in separate rooms, I might add) and so I have a moment to ponder techniques to keep access to the muse alive and well.  This is on my mind because at the recent Loft orientation, my fellow mentor and old friend Betsy Woods gave me the details on a new-to-me technique.

It is called a Weather Journal, and its a bit like writing morning pages, only more so.  With Morning Pages, you write down a stream of consciousness account of anything and everything, just to get it out on the page.  A Weather Journal is more crafted, more reactive, more of the moment.  With the Weather Journal, you start from where you are at the moment you sit down, and you write about that place, every blessed bit of it, starting with the things you are experiencing through your senses.

This invariably leads to more writing, perhaps an account of something that happened to you the day before, or an inquiry into an emotional upset.  The Weather Journal is very Zen in that it starts in the present moment and assumes that the entire universe exists in that moment.  And, well, every writer knows that its all in the details.   Keeping a Weather Journal is an excellent way to begin noting the details.  I've noticed this magical effect of the Weather Journal, which is that when you start by noting the details of the present moment, it is much easier to put on the page details of the scene that happened to you the day before when you were at the coffee shop and the barista with the red hair gave you a Frappucino with whipped cream on it instead of your usual grande latte.

While I'm at it, I'm going to run down a list of my Top Techniques for Writing Flow.  So here goes:

1.  Weather Journal–see above.  And let me know if you come up with a better name for it, would you please?

2.  Morning Pages–I did these faithfully for years.  They are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, who advocates their use in her book, The Artist's Way.  To do Morning Pages, often called MPs by devotees, you get up, grab your coffee or tea, and sit down with paper and pen in hand.  And then you write three pages, no more, no less, and get your ya-yas out so you can get on with the real business of life.  MPs are also a great way to track the desires of your true self.  So, if over the course of a month you realize you've written, I want to move to Africa and be a missionary, 5 times, it might be time to start checking airfare to Rwanda.  My problem with MPs is that they tend to devolve into a laundry list of things to do, and thus they end up feeding an obsessive thinking trait I'm trying to end.

3.  Free Writing--Sit down with your journal, set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt and write until the timer goes off.  No lifting the pen from the page, no stopping, even if you are writing I hate free writing over and over again.  There is no shortage of books chock-full of prompts for free writing.  Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones,is probably the most famous advocate of this type of journaling.  The problem with free writing is that it is easy to get lost in it and end up with a bunch of useless writing that goes nowhere.  One way to get around this is to take prompts from your own current writing project.  This can be a great technique for solving thorny plot or character issues.

4. Lists--The lazy writer's way to keep a journal.  Not surprisingly, I love this one.  Say you find yourself on vacation in the Yucatan in Mexico and everything is exotic and different.  But you're on vacation and you end up spending most of it on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas from the beach-side bar.  Who has time to write in their journal in such a situation?  Especially when there are silly floor shows to attend every night?  And more Pina Coladas? Should you find yourself in such a jam, remember the benefits of writing a list.  It can be words or phrases, or whatever you want it to be, related or unrelated.  The key is to just get down descriptive words that you can later go back to and write from.  (And can I just say that I'm glad I visited Chichen Itza, back in the day, not so long ago, when you could still climb to the top of the ruins, even if I did only get halfway up before my fear or heights kicked in.)

That's it.  That's all I got on techniques for writing flow, and I think you'll find all of them useful in different situations.  If anybody has any other good ones, leave a comment so we can all steal it and use it!

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