You cannot use up creativity. The more you use it the more you have. (Maya Angelou)
But how do you access this precious resource?
Does it sit in our head or heart?
How do you keep it refreshed?
And how do you apply it to your creative process?
I find Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, from her book The Artists Way, is a great process for accessing the creative thoughts and ideas which lurk, just out of sight, in that liminal time between sleeping and waking.
First thing, when I get out of bed, I make tea and sit at my desk and write. It is something I have done for a couple of decades. Even before I knew about Morning Pages, I would sit, in the morning and write my thoughts. It is the best writing warm up I have ever used and I have learned to value this as an important part of my process.
The joy of this ‘free writing’ is that it doesn’t have to make sense or be read by anyone else. In fact, Julia Cameron suggests you don’t read it back yourself, not for a while anyway. Let it be what it is without judgement. The real joy is turning off the internal editor, that little voice in your head or on your shoulder or wherever else it sits, with its vicious red pen telling you that what you are writing is rubbish, banal or worse; correcting your grammar, spelling and punctuation. In this exercise, you are allowed to just let it out and create some flow. I have frequently startled myself with this exercise when I uncover some amazing insight, character, thought or plot which I had no idea was loitering in there.
When I was a dancer, I warmed up before class. This is an expected part of the dancer’s process, as it is for musicians and sports-people. Now, as a writer, I warm up by writing Morning Pages and this helps to create flow. It takes a while to get the head and the fingers to synchronise and Morning Pages does this for me. This exercise helps to develop fluency between feeling, thought and words. It has become my scales and arpeggios, or my ballet barre.
Words on the page become the visible frame of thoughts, which are often triggered by emotions. With Morning Pages, I am focussing in, not out and I can give credence to the thoughts and feelings by writing them down. And then they transform into something else; things I didn’t know were there until they show themselves. I acknowledge the idea and move on, maybe to revisit at another time. Those thoughts, feelings and ideas which recur and shout loudest, get most attention.
I begin to ask questions?
What if … ? Why would … ? How did … ?
And then the connections emerge. Some thoughts will persist; they grow and change; others will fall aside and lie neglected and sometimes, when I need inspiration, I read through my Morning Pages and find these lovely nuggets which I had long forgotten. My Morning Pages are the greenhouse where stories can emerge, plot twists resolve, and ideas wait to be explored.
My creative process is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are in my head. I uncover them through my Morning Pages and then I extract them and explore how some of these thoughts, ideas and snippets might fit together. A picture emerges, not always clear; often only a fragment. And then I experience that joy of attaching fragments to each other and the picture becomes clearer.
I then apply writing techniques – the skills I have learned about genre, plot, story structure, narrative arc… etc, until the fragments become A Story, and only then does the full picture emerge. When I have a story and plot, I am ready to write another book.
So, every time I write my Morning Pages, I access that infinite stream of creativity which lies deep inside, somewhere between the head, the heart and the fingers. I believe that so far, I have only skimmed the surface.