Morning Pages

Yesterday, I came across this habit called writing “morning pages.” It is something I have been doing for a while, but I didn’t know that it had a name to it. Morning pages is the habit of writing at least three pages every morning. There are some rules attached to it. Firstly, the writing must be done by putting pen to paper- none of this digital stuff. Secondly, the writing must be just stream-of-consciousness. This means, no careful planning, no wilful narrating, and of course, no editing. It is just the act of penning down whatever it is that is currently going through your mind. Thirdly, it has to be honest. No self-editing for political correctness and such. The purpose is to just transfer one’s thoughts into paper in an effort to clear the clutter in your mind. It is also recommended that this activity be done in the morning. It is supposed to help one be more creative during the day, when done in the morning. Lastly, the pages must be kept private, that is, they are not meant to be read at all… by anybody. That includes you the writer! If you do want to read what you wrote, it is recommended that you wait a long time before you do so. The logic behind this rule is that you don’t want the junk back in your head. You are writing to get rid of it.

I started doing just this about a month ago. One morning, I woke up at 4 AM and could not go back to sleep. I gave up trying to fall asleep after an hour and decided to just get up and do something else. I had all these thoughts running around in my head and it felt chaotic. So I grabbed a notebook and wrote it all down, as and when it came to me. I found that it really helped clear my head. Since then, I have done this a couple more times and yesterday I found that there is name for it. (Just like I found out that my system of rapid logging lists in a notebook also has a name for it – a bullet journal and the doodling artwork that I have done since I was a kid is a “zentangle”. I guess I am just not enterprising enough to market my ideas!)

So yesterday, I decided to try and make this a regular habit. I woke up today and wrote four pages. I am amazed at how much it helped clear my head. Then again, it makes sense. I have always found writing to calm me down in some way. But, so far I have only used it to write publically in a blog or a facebook post or something. The drawback of that is that I sometimes go through a phase when I am depressed or disturbed and I don’t feel like divulging my thoughts to anyone. I feel vulnerable and I want to withdraw from the world. This then leads to long absences from writing (such as in this blog for nearly seven months or so), while I wait to come out of the funk. I think I now found a way to circumvent that with this morning pages ritual.

Initially, I wondered if writing the morning pages meant that I would run out of things to say and won’t be able to keep this blog going. Instead, it inspired me to write this. I wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I kept a personal diary for about ten years from the age of 10-20. One day, I dug into my old diaries and read some of it. It all felt to inane and stupid that I just completely gave up on keeping a diary. Then, I started an “open diary” online. It was initially great but as annonymity gave way to a social network of sorts, I stopped writing in that. (Also the site closed up, I think). Now I realize that I have always had a real need to put down my private thoughts somewhere. Its not that my private thoughts are so horrible, its just that I am inherently a very private person.

Later, I got into the habit of keeping a journal each year. I do that even now, but I only write down appointments, reminders, or something important that happened. Now I have finally found a solution with the morning pages. I love the act of actually putting pen to paper. I always have. It makes me think better. I was always the student who made copious notes. The only drawback with morning pages is keeping it secret from nosy relatives (read nosy kids). I think the solution lies in periodically destroying the pages. It will take some practice for me to figure out how often that can be done.

So, to all my writer friends out there, have a go at morning pages. It might help you like it helped me.

-AB

P.S. What is the difference between a diary and a journal? I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer for that.

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That’s a job!

A long time I was cleaning out some of old junk and came across some of my husband’s notebooks from college. Now, these are always interesting. His notes are filled with about 25% notes, 70% drawings and ideas for video games featuring elaborate robots, aliens, and fantasy figures, and 5% random thoughts that he was thinking of when he was not paying attention to the lecture. I love to browse through them. Every time I do, I ask my husband to do something more with those game ideas, maybe build a game or write a novel based on it. I generally ignore the boring notes about library science. What I really love are those random thoughts. There is one that is extra-special to me. He had written:

“Food critic – That’s a job”

I asked him for an explanation. He told me that he thought that being a food critic would be an awesome job. You go to restaurants, get special treatment, eat amazing food, and then critique it. It would especially ideal for my husband who so adventurous in his food. Since then, this became a private joke between us. Whenever, we came across some interesting work, we would look at each other, grin and say ‘That’s a job!”.

A few days ago, I realized that I love writing and being a writer “that’s a job”. I wondered why I hadn’t become a writer right out of college and even why I didn’t take college classes to become a writer. I tried to remember my earliest ambitions and with some shock I realized that the first time I really had an ambition was when I was in 6th grade and I had wanted to be *gasp* a ‘writer’!

I moved to a new school in 6th grade and I had a wonderful English teacher who made me realize my love for the language. She took the time to sit with me and corrected some of my repetitive mistakes – I didn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’. I spelled ‘John’ as ‘Jhon’. This memory suddenly came back to me, I had written a story about as protagonist named ‘Jhon’ and she had read it. She sat with me, pointed out my strengths and weaknesses and encouraged me to write. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, this English teacher moved to another school the next year. By the time I got another great English teacher in 9th grade, Indian culture had effectively brainwashed me that you cannot get anywhere in life unless you have a career in science.

In 7th grade, we had a new biology teacher, who helped me discover my love for biology and I forgot all about wanting to be a writer. I still loved my English classes in high school but I had fully embraced science by then. I did great with science in college and in graduate school I combined my love of food/nutrition with biology and became a food microbiologist.

You make plans and then life happens. I wanted to join the food industry and climb up the corporate ladder (now I realize how I would have hated that: you do kind of get to know yourself better in your 30s). Then about 5 years ago, I stumbled back into writing. I worked part-time as a freelance writer picking up writing jobs here and there on the internet. Even when I came back to India, 3 years ago, I initially worked in a food research company albeit in as a public relations officer. I had 2 profiles on naukri.com – one for AB the scientist and one for AB the writer and somehow despite having less experience ,the writer one always got more hits (maybe the profile showcased my writing skills?). So the science was not meant to be.

I got my current job when the HR manager at work called me after seeing my naukri profile. I was out on a jog and wasn’t very interested. I came home and saw his email and decided the place was too far away. A couple of days later, I mentioned it to my mother who pointed out that it wasn’t really that far. So i decided to just go check it out. I went there at 10 am and ended up staying till 7 pm taking their tests one after another and having my final interview and getting the job.

The best thing about my current job was that it made me rediscover my love of writing. It is true that we don’t to much ‘creative writing’ at my job but it just felt so good to be back among words! It made me remember how my original ambition had been to be a writer. It felt great to be surrounded by others who shared an equal love for writing and reading. Writing does the same thing for me that my art does. It releases stress in a creative endeavor while actively engaging my intellect. Art does that for me when my brain is tired and I don’t want to think, but just want to create. Maybe I am more of an artist than a scientist after all. I always used to think I am not ‘untidy’ enough to be a true artist. I detest clutter and find comfort in logic and patterns and I used to think that made me more a scientist than an artist.

I think I really have found my calling with writing and will never be far away from writing again. Maybe some day I will be able to make money being some kind of science writer. Now ‘that would be a job’!

-AB