PRIMING THE PUMP
There are several basic tools that serve as a bedrock for productive writing. With these tools in place, it is possible to set the stage for longevity as a writer. This week, you will prime the pump—readying yourself for the long-term commitment between writer and writing project. By committing to these tools and examining your approach to your writing, you will set in motion a healthy, sustainable process that will carry you through the next six weeks—and beyond.
I love to write. I’m seventy-three years old, and I have been writing full-time since I was eighteen. That’s fifty-five years—a long-running romance.
I love to write. Pen to the page, I find clarity and order.
I love to write, and so I do it daily. Right now I am sitting in my library, in my big leather writing chair, and I am, yes, writing. My little dog Lily, a Westie, sprawls at my feet. “Good dog, Lily,” I croon. But Lily is not a good dog. She is a very naughty dog, and chief among her misdeeds is a fondness for pens. Lily is a writer’s dog, I joke. I settle in to write and Lily settles in to steal my pen. I move my hand across the page, and whenever I stop, Lily pounces. She grabs my pen and scampers off, only to emerge minutes later with a disemboweled pen and a jaunty black mustache.
“Lily, I’m trying to write,” I scold her, but the game of “get the pen” gives her great pleasure. She jumps on my lap, landing squarely on my notebook. She grabs my pen and scampers away. So now I am writing with pen number two. What I want to write about is writing itself.
I’ll start with a flora and fauna report: my roses are blooming, scarlet and white. Songbirds carol from the junipers. Underfoot, quick-witted gray lizards scoot clear of the path. Lily darts in pursuit. It is only early May, but Santa Fe is enjoying an early summer. Today’s day is hot and hazy. The mountains are blurred. Walking with Lily, I am quickly thirsty. When cars pass us on our dirt road, clouds of dust linger in the air. I pause and wait for the dust to settle before pressing on. Our walks are a daily discipline I set for myself. On the days when our walks are aborted—too much wind or rain—Lily grows restless, pacing the Saltillo tiles of my adobe house. “Lily,” I tell her, “we’ll go tomorrow.”
When nightfall comes, Lily settles down. Last night’s three-quarter moon cleared the mountains as a silvery disc. Tonight the moon will be near full and its glow will grace the garden, an inviting light to write by, and so I write.
Writing, like walking, is a daily discipline. Like Lily, I grow restless if the routine is skipped. And so now I take pen to page, writing the details of my day, knowing that writing leads to writing. For six months now, I have been between books. Officially not writing, except for my Morning Pages. I have found myself writing cards and letters to my far-flung friends. Inspired by my example, many of them have written me back, our cards crossing in the mail.
“We live so far apart,” my friend Jennifer had taken to moaning. I carefully selected the cards I sent to her—photographic images of New Mexico winging their way to Florida. I sent a picture of our cathedral, of a ristra—a string of red chili peppers, of a cactus flower in bloom. Jennifer would be delighted by the photos and my terse, card-sized notes. She no longer complains of our separation. The written word and pictures soothe her psyche as no amount of telephone chat can.
Sitting at my dining room table, I write out my notecards. I am provoked to write with great specificity. A card with roses to Laura finds me reporting on my own roses. A card with an owl, and I am telling my mentor, poet Julianna McCarthy, how very much I appreciate her wisdom. My daughter, Domenica, a horse lover, received a card of ponies and a note inquiring her progress with the young horse she is schooling. Each note tells the recipient they are cherished. I have taken the time to write. Out at a cafe, I enjoy a soy chai latte. I write to my colleague Emma Lively, knowing her preference for a fancy cappuccino.
“I got your card,” Laura reports a quick three days later. Her card features rambling roses—tall like Laura herself. “It was beautiful,” she continues. Seated again at my dining room table, I send her a card of delphiniums. I remember that she likes blue.
“You are beloved,” our cards say, and seeing is believing. We hoard our handwritten notes. My daughter reports her cards are strung on yarn, gracing her bookshelf. “They’re so happy,” she says.
And writing is happy. A potent mood changer, writing tutors us in joy. Putting pen to page, we cherish our lives. We matter, our writing declares. Taking the time and effort to describe our moods, we find those moods lightening. Paying attention, we soothe the anxious part of ourselves that wonders, “What about me?” No longer orphans, we are beloved, and writing to our friend tells them they are beloved. Writing “rights” things between us. The distances common to modern life are diminished. We close the gap of good intentions.
Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.
I love to write. Writing is powerful. It is an act of bravery. As we write, we tell ourselves the truth about how we are—and how we feel. We give the universe our coordinates: “I am precisely here.” We give the universe permission to act on our behalf. When we write, we experience synchronicity. Our “luck” improves. Writing is a spiritual path. With each word, we take another step forward. Writing has wisdom in it. It takes courage to see ourselves and our world more clearly. Writing is a commitment to honesty. On the page, in black and white, we see the variables we are dealing with. Writing is a lifeline. I love to write.
TOOLS IN PLACE: MORNING PAGES AND ARTIST DATES
As a writer, I credit my daily practice of Morning Pages with giving me the willingness to start where I am. What precisely are Morning Pages? They are three daily pages of longhand morning writing that is strictly stream of consciousness.
The pages clear my head and prioritize my day. I think of them as a potent form of meditation. There is no wrong way to do the pages. You simply keep your hand moving across the page, writing down anything and everything that occurs to you. It is as though you are sending the universe a telegram: “This is what I like, this is what I don’t like”—implicit in this, “Please help me.” If the pages are meditation, they are also a potent form of prayer.
When I began writing Morning Pages, I needed prayer. I had washed up in the tiny mountain town of Taos, New Mexico, having gone there to sort out my brilliant career. I had written a movie for Jon Voight, and its reception had gone from “brilliant” to radio silence. Discouraged, I had rented a little adobe house at the end of a little dirt road. It was lonely there, and I took up the practice of Morning Pages to keep myself company. Every day, before my daughter woke up, I would rise and go to the long pine table that faced a large window that held a view of Taos Mountain. Faithfully, I would record the mountain’s mood: foggy … clear … scattered clouds near the summit …
“What should I do about my movie?” I would daily ask the pages.
The answer would come back, “Do nothing about your movie. Just write.”
And so I would write, about nothing in particular, just daily meanderings. Three daily pages gave me a sense of purpose. It was a manageable amount. The first page and a half were easy. The second page and a half, harder, contained pay dirt: hunches, intuition, insights. The pages were habit forming. They coaxed, cajoled, and tempted me into self-revelation. I became intimate with myself. The pages were a dare; a place where I risked being my authentic self. I wrote—and I loved writing.
Copyright © 2022 by Julia Cameron