I’ve been feeling stuck for the past few months. I’ve been reading the same books, watching the same shows, making the same to-do list, heck–wearing the same outfits, over and over again, without feeling very engaged in any of it. I haven’t felt completely completely bogged down or worried about something in particular–just stuck. Spinning my wheels. Retracing my steps.
To get out of the rut, I’ve decided to do The Vein of Gold, a book of creative exercises by Julia
Cameron. It’s a follow up to The Artist’s Way, a 12 week program meant to help people reconnect with their creativity. Just about every artist I know has either done the The Artist’s Way, or knows someone who did The Artist’s Way and about 1.4 bazillion people recommended to me that I do it. In fact, so many people talked about how amazing the book is and recommended that I do The Artist’s Way, that I refused to, out of pure contrariness. I am a contrary person sometimes.
I finally decided to do The Artist’s Way in 2012. I had hit a roadblock in my job search, and I was having trouble writing, and generally feeling quite stuck and unhappy. Some of the language of The Artist’s Way was off-putting (not offensive, it was just a little sincere and earnest even for me, and I am a bleeding heart Midwestern Quaker raised by a folksinger, so I have a damn high tolerance for sincerity), but the tasks were solid. Julia Cameron focuses on getting readers to both exercise their creativity here and now, and to build a roadmap for the future.
Going through the Artist’s Way helped me figure out what I wanted in a job, which in turn helped me focus my search and led to my current position. It also helped me focus my writing more, take more creative risks, and generally get unstuck…and it made me become one of those people who recommends The Artist’s Way to other people looking to shake up their creative lives.
Thus, while I am not the same stressful position I was in 2012, I could use some re-focusing, so it’s back to Julia Cameron. Her book The Vein of Gold, like The Artist’s Way, has a series of exercises you do over several weeks.
This week, the task is to start doing morning pages, artist dates–tasks also used in The Artist’s Way. I’ve started the morning pages, which I was still doing intermittently and I’ve grown to appreciate them again. Morning pages are three pages of stream of consciousness writing, done by hand, every morning. Some people think of them as a brain dump, a way of clearing out all of the junk in their head that is getting in the way of new ideas. Others think of it as meditation. Since I have an anthropology background, I like to think of morning pages as field notes on my mind.
There is something refreshing about committing to private journaling, for writers and researchers who write for public consumption, it is easy to start thinking of all of your writing as public and to start editing as you are writing, instead of letting go during the first draft. It is also easy to value writing only if it is public–but private writing can be incredibly useful tool for working out ideas, processing experiences, and just taking risks.
If you haven’t tried morning pages, I recommend giving them a shot. Even if you aren’t interested in the creativity angle, they can be useful for stress management. A few months ago, I attended a lecture by a University of Chicago neuroscientist studying the effects of journaling on stress among students. She found that the type of journaling Cameron advocates (stream of consciousness, by hand) is particularly effective for reducing stress before tests and helping students do better on their tests.