Writing for Your Life
Many years ago, 24 to be exact, I had an experience that was very influential. I had a 12 step sponsor at the time who, every time I would present some subject I wanted to discuss and get his advice would ask me, “Did you write about that yet?” My answer, because I didn’t write about anything, was always, “No, I just want to talk to you about it.” Well, one day I visited him and that discussion took place but instead of relenting and engaging in a discussion, he said, “You know what? I am not going to discuss this with you until you have written about it!”
No matter how much I pleaded, he was adamant. I got real upset, stormed out of his house, went to the local supermarket and bought a 5″x7″ spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen. I went home and wrote because I really wanted his advice.
After I wrote a page of “screw you’s”, “how dare he not talk!” and the like, I settled down to write out my original problem about which I was concerned. Lo and behold, when I was finished writing about the problem, the solution popped into my head and I didn’t have to talk to him about it after all.
Little did I know when I was storming out of his house that he had just given me his best advice. I have been writing every night before I go to bed ever since.
Many years later, I took a workshop series on “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron, a seminal work for people interested in improving their creativity. Her first suggested practice is called “Morning Pages.” The assignment is quite simple, write three full-size notebook pages every morning with train-of-thought writing. That is allowing the hand to write what the brain is thinking without editing. Because I had already been writing at night for many years, I quickly embraced this practice. My fellow workshop mates really struggled with this assignment. They reported that it took them hours to finish three pages. That seemed very strange to me because I whipped them out in 45 minutes. After questioning them about how they were writing and comparing that to what I was doing, I got a grasp of the difference. That difference is the key to writing Morning Pages.
Because my Evening Writing was all about dumping my feelings, frustrations, and joys of the day onto the pages, there was no reason to be creative and so I got in the habit of continuous writing until there was nothing more to write about. Along the way, I had established rules for myself concerning this writing. I did not erase or correct anything including misspellings. If it was an obviously poor choice of words, I put a line through it and continued on. The mission was to get it all on paper quickly and go to sleep.
When I started doing Morning Pages, I approached that writing the same way. My fellows were trying to craft a literary work of art, even though the author warned them not to, so they labored over every word and phrase. No wonder it took them so long! So the takeaway from this story is that when doing Morning Pages, once the pen starts writing it does not stop moving until all three pages are done! Period! If I run out of thoughts then I will describe the comfort of the pen and how smoothly the ink is flowing (I have now graduated to gel pens!), just write gibberish, or curse me out for ever committing to this exercise, but through all of that, the pen does not stop.
This is an important part of doing the exercise. To understand why, we need to remember how the inner and outer minds function. Sometimes the outer mind is called the left brain or logical mind, and the inner mind the right brain , or creative one. I like the simplicity of using inner and outer minds. All creativity and exquisite action comes from the inner mind. The outer mind, when it is not busy guarding and protecting all the inner mind’s operating programs, acts as the editor of all actions. It is the part that worries about what other people will think, if things make sense and if the spelling is correct. It operates in real time, meaning very slowly.
The inner mind computes at the speed of thought, a gazillion times faster than the outer mind. Any time a person is operating at their exquisite best, like a champion basketball player at the top of his game, you can bet that his outer mind is not engaged and he is operating exclusively from his inner mind.
The same goes for writing and other creative arts. The purpose of keeping the pen moving is that it is moving faster than the outer mind can keep up with, so eventually, it stops trying to and gets out of the way. At that point, pure thought and action start spilling out of the creative inner mind and onto the paper. What you are currently reading was produced exactly in this manner. Because I have been doing this practice for years, all I have to do is start writing and I am immediately in that flow of creativity.
I find that my Evening Writing and my Morning Pages are a great pair of practices. Before I go to sleep, I write my Evening Writing, in bed (use a ball-point pen, so if you fall asleep with the pen in your hand it won’t drain into your sheets). That writing allows me to clear my mind of all the accumulated feelings and noise of the day. Once it is written, that infernal loop of self-talk ceases and I can get to sleep. If I have written about a problem, by morning I usually have a solution. Because my mind is clear, I get a good night’s sleep so I wake refreshed and eager to see just what my inner creative mind will produce in my Morning Pages. Just like washing and showering wakes the body up, Morning Pages wakes the mind up. If you are not looking to be a writer, this exercise is still useful because it gets all the creative juices flowing and sets one up for a marvelous day!
©2012, rev. 2018, Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV
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*About The Author*
Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) is the former Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. ( http://www.la-youth.org ) and has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He is an expert on teaching and coaching the “getting-on-living,” self-esteem building and spirituality parts of recovery. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or