Living your best afterlife

A number of my writer friends, lately, (I will point first and most aggressively to Katie Coyle) have been using The Artist’s Way, a program of thinking and writing and self-soothing meant to increase your creative capacities and nurture your inner whatever. There is something about The Artist’s Way that leads people to become devoted followers, but doesn’t allow them to speak about it without cynicism or self-derision. I am no exception: just re-read the above paragraph. Your inner whatever?

I have not actually read the book, so I don’t know the complete program, but one of the most famous elements is known as “morning pages,” or (at least as I understand it) what students from my middle school English class would have recognized as free-writing. Every morning, ideally before reading anything else, you sit down and write at least three pages, I assume by hand. The idea being you get in touch with your subconscious, your unfiltered creativity, before engaging with the world and all its intellectual pressures.

For years, particularly when I had a full-time day job, I would write for an hour every morning. I had rules for this time, notably that, although I got to check my email beforehand, once I started, I was not allowed to look at the internet, even for research. If I was stuck, I had to sit with it: some days, this resulted in forty-five minutes of me sitting in my chair, thinking not so much about writing as about how much I wished I was thinking about writing. It could be frustrating, but it was very generative and effective: over time, I wrote more and more in that hour, my brain accommodating or even embracing the schedule I had set for it. You would be surprised how much you can get done, writing for just an hour every day. I cannot overstate how smug I was about the efficacy of this.

Over time, though, the schedule fell away. In part, I started riding my horse three or four times a week, and when it was hot out (that is, half the year at minimum) I had to go in the morning or else risk heat stroke for both self and horse. I cut down my hours at work, so I was able to write with less structure. Then I stopped doing that day job, and began the irregular schedule of sometimes teaching that I’m on now, which mostly means no day job at all—which in turn meant I could stop being strict at all about my morning hour. Plus, I got tired. It turns out that if you essentially have two different, mentally strenuous jobs for ten years, you can get tired; the fact that I’m never sure how seriously to take my own exhaustion doesn’t seem to diminish it much.

The point being, I’ve relaxed into a morning routine of eating breakfast and looking at the internet, which is exactly as healthy and useful as it sounds. I still write, of course, but I have been missing the freshness of my morning thoughts, and the rigor of a set schedule. And all my friends were doing the damn Artist’s Way. I started doing morning pages.

I won’t tell you it will absolutely work for you. I won’t say that every morning is useful. I will absolutely say that writing by hand hurts my wrist a lot, and that I seem to grip the pen more tightly for writing than I do when drawing or inking a comic, and I’m not sure why. But there is something about the privacy and openness of morning pages that has been very good for me. It’s not the same as the focused hour of novel-writing I used to do; perhaps when I’m done with this last (I hope) edit of my current book I’ll try that again. But it has let a little light in, and for that I am grateful. I have found a doorway to my inner whatever, and I like it.

Though I do not know what I’ll do with all the notebooks if I keep this up.