Soon after Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way came out, everybody was talking about Morning Pages. Morning pages were three pages of continuous, stream-of-consciousness-style writing that you were supposed to perform “in long hand” every day, so early in the morning that even your brain hadn’t woken up yet. It was by far the most successful exercise in the whole book, and everyone I knew started doing them. My mom—who owns a copy of every New Age, self-help, inspirational, motivational, behaviour modificational book that has been published since 1978—immediately got herself a copy of The Artist’s Way, and gave a copy to each of her children. I wrote my Morning Pages for a couple of months; my brother Bruihn, who is an ace painter and not blocked or insecure about his art at all, wrote them for much longer.
Writing those three pages (approximately 750 words, or 250 on each page, if handwritten) every day loosened up the tight, cramped muscles of the mind. After the first week’s pages, where beginners…well, okay, where I mostly wrote that I had nothing to write about, or wrote about the exercise itself…my thoughts started to fall into place and I found that I could think more clearly, expressing what I wanted to say with a richer vocabulary and more efficiently; that I could sustain an orderly progression of ideas from Question to Solution to Better Question.
750 Words is the online, future-ified, fun-ified translation of this exercise.
You create your account and log in, and are immediately confronted with the day’s blank screen: there’s the date at the top, and a word counter at the bottom. That’s it…no titles, no tags, no frills, no drop-down menus of categories, no having to decide who gets to see this post or not (it’s all private), no formatting, colors, or styles for the type; somewhere behind that calming white screen a timer has quietly started, and since there is nothing else to look at or tweak with, there’s just no avoiding the act of writing, itself. You start by starting, like the “journey of a thousand miles” that begins with one step.
Buster Benson is the clever, enthusiastic, and one is moved to say ‘caring’, man behind the site, and a veteran Morning Pages writer, himself. Obviously, he’s a highly motivated and disciplined individual, since he not only uses his own site without missing a day, but had to do all the work to create it, and he maintains it, as well.
But his site has managed to turn even lazy procrastinators like me into eager daily typists…and I have done the morning pages before, so why do I react so differently to the exercise this time? Would you believe that a dozen or so little bird and animal badges like these ones have actually helped to motivate me? You get these badges for writing so many days in a row without missing, or for being a consistently speedy typist, or for typing without long pauses. I love my badges! And I keep wanting the next one up…the Albatross for 30 consecutive days, the Phoenix for a hundred days…It’s competitive, but not necessarily with other people…it’s more like a computer game, where I am simply trying to get more points and move to the next level: I am competing with my previous points, and trying to better my own performance.
But better than badges (and this was a stroke of genius on Buster’s part) are the stats. I love the pseudo-science of statistics: they are mathematically and precisely calculated, yet the results are so easy to influence and contrive, that they’re ridiculous. 750Words uses all sorts of data culled from one’s writing—from words per minute and speed records to most frequently used word clouds, your mood and concerns for the day—and turns them into colorful pie charts and bar graphs. Not that any words-to-psyche measuring stick is very accurate…if I write “god knows,” I am likely to be concerned with religion, according to my stat page. But they are a bit of fun and not to be taken too seriously…you don’t really expect to see into your subconscious with a 9-color pie-chart of simplified emotions, do you? They’re all, according to Buster, “just tricks to help get us there.”
And get us there they do! I’ve written 14 days, so far, and over 14,000 words. My husband, who has written three books and published two of them, always used to advise me to “try and write a thousand words a day, you cannot fail to become a better writer.” 750 Words would be a great way to start writing the bits and pieces that might go into a book, eventually. Or you could just start with a daily prompt (from elsewhere) and write about it until you get everything you want to say, about that particular topic, out. It’s also a good place to dump, rant and vent your day’s anger, worries, gloats, hate…and free your mind to concentrate on better, worthier things.