Frequently Asked Questions on The Artists Way
Welcome, this is the FAQ for my online guide to The Artists Way. To join in sign up HERE.
Do I really need to write my Morning Pages every day?
Yes. But this isn't like ‘do or die’. It's a bit like fitness. You'll benefit the most if you do your exercises (or in this case, morning pages), every day, but you won't fail the course or be cast into the shadows if you forget or don't feel like it occasionally. In fact, it’s a bit of an illusion. The morning pages ARE valuable, but for us, as we try and filter out all the reasons that block us from being creative as new participants of TAW, it's more important to recognise the feelings and issues that crop up that prevent us from doing our morning pages then to do our morning pages perfectly. Julia herself says you CAN’T do your morning pages perfectly. So yes, write your morning pages every day, but if you don't, it’s FAR more important you explore why. Are you too tired? Can you improve your sleep habits? Were you distracted? Who or what did that and why aren't they respecting your time alone? The times you don't write your morning pages and the reasons you give for not doing them are just as important as when you do them. We are hunting for blocks that stop you from creating. You may feel like you’re doing something wrong, or you’re not doing the course right, but actually, you are evacuating valuable insights into what’s holding you back as an artist and will progress creatively far quicker as a result.
Do I need to write them in the morning?
Yes. When you first do The Artists Way I recommend doing the morning pages exactly when you’re supposed to. If it’s inconvenient, even better. Morning pages are not meant to be convenient. This chunk of your time has suddenly been invaded by Morning Pages and they are going to get in your way and annoy you and stress you out and push all your buttons because, at first, their purpose is to help us identify how we choose to spend our time. If you can’t find 30 minutes to yourself to write 3 pages of nonsense, how are you going to allow yourself to find the time to create artistic masterpieces? That’s not meant to frighten you, it’s a slap around the face. It is a very clever, very important training tool that forces you to ‘make something’ every day, no matter what. The other reason why they’re done in the morning is that it prepares us for the day. Because we’ve already done something creative, even though it was probably complete nonsense, we are free for our brains to start thinking up interesting ideas for the rest of the day.
After you’ve completed TAW I’ve noticed many alumni become a bit more flexible with when they do their morning pages. This is because as you progress through the course you’ll find your morning pages provide interesting insights and they become a useful tool in idea development. When you’re functioning as an artist and you feel like you’d prefer to try morning pages on your terms, whether that’s at another time of day or in another format, I say, go for it. I believe Julia Cameron is training us to be self motivated, confident artists, not sheep, so if you want to try morning pages another way, do it. But for now, just for 12 weeks, stick to a morning routine and see what happens.
Some people also ask if they can do them in the evening, or an extra lot in the evening. I actually did this for a while when I found TAW particularly difficult and it was very soothing. I would have a stressful day and then purge an extra page or two in the evening to help me relax. But after a while I noticed too much inward thinking was making me feel worse so I restrained myself to just the 3 pages each day and I was able to get everything out in that one session and then the rest of the day was spent finding solutions to my problems rather than just living in my head. So by all means, write it out, but keep it in check. You need to be moving forward rather than dwelling.
Do I need to hand write them?
Julia is clear in this, both in the TAW and other books she’s written. They do need to be written in long hand. She refers to the act of writing morning pages as a kind of meditation and the physical act of writing encourages that. Of course there will be some of you that can’t hand write for very good reasons and of course alternative methods are appropriate, but for the rest of us, even if its inconvenient and you’d rather dictate them in the car on your way to work, nope, that won’t cut it. Give your notebook and your pen just 30 minutes of your attention and let the writing flow through your hands. You’ll find it quite cathartic ranting away by hand rather than using all caps on a computer, I promise, I know, I’ve tried. And it doesn’t matter if your handwriting is illegible. Or if there’s spelling mistakes either. Really. It’s not important.
How long should it take me?
At the back of my edition of The Artists Way this question is answered but I’m going to give my own experience of how long things take. For me, writing 3 pages of Morning Pages each day can take around 45 minutes and I’m not a particularly slow writer. I think it’s because I like to make a moment of it. I get a cup of coffee before my children are awake and I get back into bed and I write them there before I’ve even got dressed. Sometimes I do them somewhere more interesting like outside in the summer as the sun rises or I’ll snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket and a candle lit. It really depends on my mood and whatever makes the experience less of a burden.
My Artists dates can last from 1 hour to a whole day. Sometimes I might even have more then one a week.
Other tasks in the book can easily be completed within a few minutes as long as you focus and set aside to do them. Most just require a quiet moment to think. Others require time for collecting materials or research. I find that my worksheets provide a useful guide on how much of your time is required because you can see what you need to fill in and do, right in front of you. Some weeks are very uneventful. Others have a lot of admin to fill in.
What happens if I can't think of anything to write in my Morning Pages?
One of the most important parts of the basic tools section is where Julia answers this question- if you can’t think of anything to write LITERALLY JUST WRITE ‘I can’t think of anything to write’ over and over and over. I know, that sounds horrifying right? How can we do that? Isn’t that cheating? But the content of Morning Pages isn’t important. The physical act of writing IS. You could write the alphabet over and over if you get really stuck and I bet by the third attempt you’ll have something pop in your head that you can write about. I’ve done it. I’ve only managed to write ‘I can’t think of anything to write’ about six times before something else came into my head. Please remember this and try it. You don’t need to plan anything or have a theme or focus on creative ideas or anything like that. You literally just purge the meaningless chatter that flows through your brain onto the page. It’s ugly and has very little upfront value and can be boring and even upsetting… but let’s get it on the page rather than have it floating around in our heads distracting us from being creative.
What size pages?
You’ll need an A4 notebook or page. That’s letter size or 8” x 11”. Nothing smaller. If you don’t have that size, see how long it takes you to write one A4 page, multiply that time by 3 and then write for that length of time in your chosen book.
If you have twangs of guilt that you’re consciously or unconsciously writing very slowly or writing huge letters to avoid doing your morning pages, don’t worry about what Julia would think, just ask YOURSELF why YOU are doing that and ensure you’re confronting your pages head on. Cutting corners only lets you down.
What do you do with morning pages after you've written them?
Keep them private. Later on we go through the morning pages to review the craziness we’ve been writing about. After the course some people keep them, I’ve read that Julia keeps hers in a bookcase, but I personally destroy mine as soon as possible.
I have privacy concerns...
I’m always haunted by the story I read about a woman who’s morning pages were found and used against her in divorce court. She had to explain to the judge that she wasn’t actually crazy, it was just her Morning Pages. You may be wondering what would happen, seriously, if someone accidently reads one of your notebooks. And you’re right, that could potentially be a complete personal disaster. Privacy is of huge importance during TAW. Mainly because if you’re doing your MPs correctly there will be a lot of ranting, paranoia, honesty and maybe even craziness which others will not appreciate reading and more importantly you will feel creatively violated is your deepest most vulnerable thoughts are made public. True they shouldn’t invade your privacy but mistakes happen. Life happens.
Get a lockable book or cover. Get a special box that you can lock your notebook away in. If you like, explain to relatives and anyone else who may have access to your possessions what that notebook is going to contain and explain how important your privacy is. They might be curious, they might break your trust and spy on you, they might be completely indifferent- all of this is valuable information on your creative working however, and how safe you feel to work in their presence. Learn from any issues that arise from you asking for privacy. It could be a creative block for you!
Personally, I wrote a disclaimer in the front of my notebooks explaining what it contained and why and then I destroy them after a few months. If you want optimum privacy I recommend handwriting your pages on loose paper and then scanning pages into your computer to be stored digitally on a locked USB. You can then destroy the originals. It takes 5 minutes more but you’ll have complete peace of mind. Simply though, I found that if I draw as little attention to my MP’s as possible, the better. My incomprehensible ranting isn’t that interesting to be fair…
Should I share my Morning Pages with others?
Nope, nope, nope. These are for your eyes only. See above. Feel free to share that you’re writing them, there’s a huge online community of people who write morning pages and your adventures in them will be very much supported, but never share the actual content. Later on, once you’ve reread them, you may want to share themes that come up in your morning pages to a trusting, understanding audience like our cluster group, but never ever hand your book over to someone else to read. It’s YOURS. It’s about showing respect for your own privacy and secret head space.
Should I reread what I've written?
Not immediately. We learn how to reread our morning pages later on but as you’re writing them, do not reread, check for spelling, remind yourself what you’ve written etc. Just keep going.
I'm a visual artist/dancer/musician, how will writing help me?
I am a visual artist. I paint and draw. For a long time I wondered if maybe I should use that time in the morning to work in my sketchbook or something more ‘arty’ instead, but nope. Words are a universal creative skill all creatives share. Letters themselves are drawings, icons, symbols, pictures. Words are sounds. Writing physically captures emotions and actions and movements. Writing is a very clear way for me to express myself without the layers and further complexities and subtext of other creative forms. I don’t have to worry about explaining myself in colour or tone or size. I can just say exactly what I’m thinking and if it’s of any value I can choose to expand on it later.
I can't find the time because I'm a parent/working/sick/asleep
I first did TAW with a newborn and a 1 year old. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I remember being horrified at what was expected of me (what do you mean get up 1 hour earlier? I’ve had 3 hours sleep and its 4am!!) but life is NO reason not to do TAW.
I sometimes wish I’d had the opportunity to do TAW without those limitations, but actually, that’s the point of this course. It’s a lifestyle thing. If you’re not making art because your lifestyle doesn’t have time for it, don’t expect to make art. It’s as simple and as brutal as that. TAW is about tweaking your life so art making becomes a lifestyle, not something you have to squeeze in as a secondary thought. And at first that’s a big, scary, impossible looking challenge. But, if you WANT to make art, you’ll start challenging yourself to make tiny changes and leaps towards creativity. You’ll begin weighing up your options. ‘Can I do this now?’, ‘Maybe if I delegate this?’, ‘I really can’t do that right now in my life and that’s okay’… If you don’t want to make art, and that’s an option, you won’t. You don’t have to. But most people do find a path through if they’re willing to make choices. Even I did.
I didn't complete my morning pages today, what should I do?
Get up tomorrow and write 3 pages on why you didn’t write them or why you wrote them partially. It’s all good stuff to explore. Just keep going. You don’t need to go back to them. You don’t need to catch up. Just carry on where you left off. In fact, I hope you to miss morning pages and miss your artists dates and I hope you give me every reason and excuse under the sun for why you haven’t done them because this is useful information. These reasons are often also the reasons why you’re not making art right now and when we understand what’s stopping us from committing to ourselves and our creativity we can unpick it and remove it from our lives. I didn’t write mine when I had the flu. I felt like death. That was a really good reason not to be creative and I am completely okay with that. I didn’t go on an Artists Date because I was too busy arguing with a stranger on the internet… that’s NOT a good reason. Even though at the time it felt worthwhile. Learn the difference between when you’re avoiding doing your creative responsibilities and when other things are just far more important.
I find my morning pages upsetting. How can I cope?
Firstly, that’s a great sign you’re using the MP’s for what they’re meant for. Congratulations on connecting so deeply with them. But yes, they can be difficult and stir up all sorts of emotions. Don’t give up though. Make sure you’re writing in a space that’s physically safe and comfortable. Make sure you’re not spending too much time writing and you’re only writing 3 pages. Otherwise it can be too intense and too inward thinking. You are meant to be purging, not stewing. If you find yourself dwelling on sad or angry thoughts afterwards try and make your MP time very distinct, with a clear start and finish to help train your mind to switch off. Light a candle and blow it out forcefully at the end. Set a timer. Have a shower afterwards and wash away the bad feelings. Go for a walk or workout afterwards. You might even want to meditate and calm any anxious thoughts. Play some loud music and dance it off. MPs CAN be painful. MPs stirred up a LOT of issues for me that actually needed professional help in the end and I urge students to remain vigilant for signs of depression, anxiety and stress which TAW can reveal. TAW is transformative, and with that occasionally comes times of pain and memories that hurt us. TAW can show you how to use those feelings for creative purposes and how to process them for the good of your art, but The Artists Way it is NOT a replacement for professional psychotherapy or counselling.
I can’t think of what to do for my artist date!
That’s okay, that’s a common issue. You’ll find that at first you may really struggle to know what to do with yourself but that’s because you’re retraining your mind to be curious. You’ve spent a long time preventing yourself from doing what your mind is curious about so to ask it out of the blue ‘what shall we do next week’ can throw it into stage fright. I recommend making a list. As you go about your day write down any ideas that come to mind. If you find yourself thinking ‘that looks good’ or ‘I’d like to try that’ or ‘I wonder if…’ write it down. It may not be creative. It may be that you feel like watching reruns of your favourite TV show or having a dance, or taking a language class. You have no control over what inspires your creative brain, but you can acknowledge it and keep an ear out for its whispers. I’ve also written a list of ideas that may inspire you HERE. You may find, more often than not, that synchronicity often plays a hand in providing suggestions on how to spend your time.
I don’t believe in God/ The spiritual aspect conflicts with me/my faith
I guess this is the most controversial aspect of the course and as an Apatheist myself, one I’ve personally struggled to find room for but The Artists Way is open for all people of all religious, spiritual and nonreligious beliefs. I know it’s a common concern for creatives attempting the course when they discover there’s a strong spiritual backbone to The Artists Way and it can be enough to put people off completely, but this is what I’ve learnt. It’s only for 12 weeks. Most of us can be open minded and curious for that long and play along or give it a go, or tolerate it. Julia also encourages personalisation and adapting the idea of a creative God to fit into YOUR religious and spiritual views to make it work for you. There is LOT of freedom in how you define your God. Have a go at least at trying to give your God a name that feels acceptable. I’ve called mine everything from Universe to Life to Mind trying to find the right word. It changes a lot depending on what you need it for. And you are not entering a cult, being brain washed, or anything else sinister. It can be irritating if you’re very against it but you are simply learning how to have faith in yourself and your creativity and that’s a GOOD thing. Many find the God aspect reassuring and after they’ve defined it for themselves they carry on most of the practices after they’ve completed the course. Others never use them again. Give it a good try and see if there’s any way you can integrate her ideas into your life. For others the spiritual aspect of The Artists Way, much like Alcoholic Anonymous, is essential to their success. I’m curious to hear how you approach the course regarding God. Let me know.
No, seriously, the God thing is annoying the hell out of me
If you find the notion of God or the spiritual side of this course that disruptive then I urge you, IGNORE IT, that’s OK. I understand that faith and religion can be a trigger for some people and if it’s too soon for you to unpick those issues then just read around it entirely. The content and tasks in The Artists Way are useful regardless of whether or not you connect with the spiritual elements in the book, so persevere without acknowledging God regardless. Many have succeeded in cultivating a more creative life without adopting the spiritual aspects of the book.