I’ve been in a writing drought lately. I get up every morning and sit down to my computer. Words get typed into the screen. But they aren’t as good as the words I’m used to writing. They aren’t as good as they could be. I’m not being modest. I know what I’m capable of as a writer, and this is not it.
So what am I supposed to do to reach my potential?
There’s something I always do when I’m dealing with a creative block of some kind. It comes from an artist and author named Julia Cameron who I love and recommend completely. She wrote a book called The Artist’s Way that is all about helping artists to cultivate their creative energy; and her words have helped me navigate many emotional blockages in my writing lifetime.
Even if you’re not an “artist” by profession, I recommend this book.
It’s like therapy for $29.99.
Anyway, one of the things Cameron recommends is something she calls Morning Pages—a practice which involves getting up each morning and writing, first thing, whatever comes to mind. Typically, these pages are handwritten, and should add up to about three pages. This is the amount of space, Cameron says, that it takes to get over yourself and write something good.
I think there are three reasons Morning Pages, time and time again, have helped me achieve my best writing.
1. Early in the morning, your inner critic is still “sleeping” so you get to write without fear of judgement from yourself.
2. There’s only so long you can complain about a circumstance in your life (about two and a half pages, Cameron suggests) without doing something to fix it.
3. Finally, Morning Pages remind you of one of the cardinal rules of writing: you can’t write and edit at the same time.
That third reason really gets me: You can’t write and edit at the same time.
One of the cool things about the stream-of-consciousness directive of Morning Pages is that it forces you to keep writing, even when you aren’t sure where you’re headed with a particular thought, even if things feel scattered, even if you don’t love your word choice or the way dialogue unfolded in a particular passage.
This can be one of the most difficult things to do as a writer (or any kind of creative)—to stop being critical of yourself for long enough to get some writing done. Your instinct is to go back and fix mistakes before moving on, to make sure everything is perfect before you keep creating. And yet, this tendency is paralyzing.
Creating isn’t a perfect process—it’s a messy one.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this tendency leaks into more than just my writing.
When it comes to living my life, I find myself fluctuating quickly back and forth between these two tasks, between “creating” and “editing.” By that I mean, I so often find myself being critical of my life while I’m busy living it. Every time I try to do something, to choose something, to take a risk, there’s the critical voice, the “editor’s” voice, telling me to fix things before they ever go wrong.
That voice grips me with fear of embarrassment, fear of regret, and a fear that what I’m creating won’t be any good.
It has this way of stopping me in my tracks before I even get started.
And if you ask me, this is a huge tragedy—
And might be stealing the beauty of each of our stories. It might be preventing us from getting to our best ideas, from acting on our most passionate convictions, from having the courage to take a stand or to simply let life unfold in it’s thrilling and messy way, right in front of us. If we’re busy correcting ourselves or redirecting ourselves or trying to make our lives seem palatable or understandable or organized…
We might be missing what makes our lives truly amazing—the fact that they aren’t any of these things.
They are wild and untamed and incredible.
We are given so much freedom to be creative.
Of course, there comes a time for editing.
Every good writer knows this. Every good writers knows there is a time to let your brain run wild with ideas, and a time to reign it in. There is a time to put every thought you have down on paper, and time to be brutal in the way you cut them out. An unedited story is rarely a good story. But you can’t do both at once.
You can’t edit your life while you’re living it.
What if we set aside a specific time for living our stories, and then a specific time for editing them? We do this with writing projects. What if we chose intentional moments of reflection, designed to get feedback from those who are creating with us, from ourselves, and from God? And what if—between those times—we just gave ourselves permission to live a messy, imperfect, passionate, fearless life?
I can’t help but think the result would be beautiful.