Monthly Archives: October 2016

How not to write Morning Pages

Notebooks full of  Morning Pages

Notebooks full of
Morning Pages

Following on from my earlier post on The Artists Way for Retirement (published in the USA as It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again), one of the key tasks and a daily part of the process is the writing of Morning Pages.

Julia Cameron is precise in her instructions for writing Morning Pages.

Do them early.
Use 3 pages of A4.
Cover the whole width of the page and don’t use paragraphs.
Write everything, no censoring, editing or pondering.
Don’t re-read. Don’t let anyone see your writing.
Pour the contents of your mind out on to the page and see where it leads you.

Sounds easy, especially for an inveterate diary writer like me. Yet somehow it was no surprise when on the first day the Gremlins of Resistance peered over my shoulder.

‘Don’t worry if you don’t get round to Morning pages til 10pm,’ they murmured. ‘A4’s far too big, it’ll take forever to cover 3 pages of that. Spread it all out, you’ll get done quicker. Be careful what you write, you don’t want to give too much away. Write as if someone was going to read it.’

Brief, scrappy and over-thought Morning Pages

Brief, scrappy over-thought Morning Pages

As I frequently forget to ignore my gremlins, I went along with them. The pages looked like this.

Writing them took less than 30 minutes.

It felt like another rushed job on the tick-list, something to gallop through, self-censoring all the while.

I continued like this for several weeks, and even though I was so thoroughly ignoring the instructions, the Morning Pages did still work some magic.

I began to discover things I’d forgotten I liked to do. Started making some changes, a few decisions.

Then, about 3 weeks from the end of the whole process, I re-read Julia Cameron’s instructions and decided to give them a proper shot, smother the pages with writing and say whatever came into my mind.

Full-width, no paragraphs, no self-editing

Full-width, no paragraphs, no self-editing

Now, the pages looked like this. It took an hour to do them. It felt as if I was getting somewhere, it was fun, and soon I was pouncing on my notebook first thing every morning.

I discovered that when you have to fill 3 large pages, you are forced to go deeper. There’s only so much fluff you can write down. And there’s a joy to producing a messy, illegible sprawl of writing, covering the lines, falling off the edges.

The Morning Pages agreed, and pointed me in new directions, towards interesting discoveries. Writing at length was a major key to working out what it was I needed to be doing to re-create my life post-retirement.

Try Morning Pages. They have a lot to tell you. But if you want to get the most from the process, shut your gremlins in the cellar and follow the instructions.

Elizabeth Martyn: Beyond 60

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Two inspiring Norfolk artists

Annie Hudson and Anthea Eames: Unearthed

Annie Hudson and Anthea Eames

Artists Annie Hudson and Anthea Eames

I encountered Annie and Anthea one bright but chilly October morning in Anteros Gallery in Norwich, as they were enjoying a coffee in the sun dappled gallery.

On the walls, in their exhibition Unearthed, hung a mix of Annie’s drawings and Anthea’s paintings, complementing each other perfectly.

Anthea uses earthy colours, beautifully textured blocks of subtle blue, russet brown, dark red and creamy yellow, while Annie draws in bold sweeps of charcoal higlighted with smudges of chalk gathered on Cromer beach.

Annie moved to Norfolk from Cumbria 2 years ago. Her heart’s still in limestone country, but she loves the coastal erosion on the Norfolk coast and is excited by its artistic possibilities.

Natural pigments made by Anthea, including a bowl of her own richly black charcoal

Natural pigments made by Anthea, including a bowl of her own richly black charcoal

Anthea collects pigments from all over the world, and was displaying Sahara sand and ochre from Cromer as well as intensely black charcoal that she makes herself.

Her son lives in Australia and she also goes to Africa to teach, which gives her an opportunity to gather raw materials.

‘Drawing on linen was like drawing on a grater,’ says Annie, and she found that Anthea’s  charcoal was the perfect medium to show off the texture of the fabric.

Karst 1 by Annie Hudson

Karst 1 by Annie Hudson

Both women returned to art after bringing up families. Annie says, ‘I brought up my kids single-handed, it was an intense time, and I didn’t start working full-time in art again until I was 50.’

There’s a lot to explore through art at this time of life. ‘I don’t think you know what you want to say until you’ve matured,’ Anthea says.

‘Young artists now are told if you haven’t made it by the time you’re 30, you won’t make it, but I didn’t graduate from art school until I was 40! Now there’s a sense that time is precious, and I say to myself, “Come on woman, get on with it!”‘

A collaborative piece by Annie Hudson and Anthea Eames

A collaborative piece by Annie Hudson and Anthea Eames

I felt very inspired by the collaboration of these two artists on this stunning exhibition, both by the confidence and expertise shown in their work, and by their attitude towards making and showing their art. Embracing their maturity and wisdom,  they use those layers of experience help them to create works with depth and meaning.

I visited the exhibition right at the end of its run, but you can see plenty of examples of Annie’s and Anthea’s work, find out more about them, and arrange a studio visit on their websites:
Elizabeth Martyn: Beyond 60

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The Artist’s Way for Retirement

The Artist's Way for Retirement
I have just finished working, writing, thinking, walking and dating my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for Retirement.

Dating? Yes indeed – taking a weekly Artist Date  –  an outing planned purely for my enjoyment, learning and delight – has been a wonderful part of the process.

On my Artist Dates I’ve sampled a silversmithing class, joined the upholstery club, browsed a huge junk furniture emporium and a vintage clothes shop, joined in with a  Buddhist meditation session, cycled to a garden centre to choose tulip bulbs, and gone to London to see a surreal exhibition by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson at the Barbican Centre. It’s very likely I’d have allowed myself none of these pleasurable excursions without the prompt of Artist Dating.

Writing Morning Pages

Julia Cameron describes Morning Pages as, ‘Three daily pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning, “for your eyes only”.’

The reality of that is an hour’s worth of pouring your guts out on to the page, which has turned out to be a lot more enjoyable and useful than it sounds.

Writing Morning Pages almost daily for 3 months began as a chore, and became a habit I don’t want to stop, and have picked up again now the course is finished, in a slightly shorter form. Free writing provides a way in to deeper thoughts, emotions and desires. I’ve unearthed dreams I didn’t even know about, and begun putting some of them into action.

Morning Pages also give a way to explore what it means to be at this stage of life, where work is no longer the driver for getting out of bed in the morning, and the family have taken themselves off and are getting their own breakfasts in cities far away. A phase of life when there may be a lot of time to be spent, without the structure that went before.

That’s exciting, but also unnerving. What if I don’t use this time properly? What is properly? Suppose I die before I’ve done anything useful with my life? What shall I do? And whatever I choose, suppose I fail? What is any of it all about?

Plenty to think about there, so it’s no surprise that following The Artist’s Way for Retirement from start to finish took more than the 12 weeks prescribed by the author, who offers one chapter per week. Each chapter focuses on reigniting a new feeling – a sense of wonder, a sense of freedom, a sense of creativity. Some chapters interested me more than others, and took longer, and I spent about 16 weeks completing the whole book.

Julia Cameron’s style is warm and encouraging, but sometimes a bit cloying for this Brit’s taste. I preferred it when the tasks and exercises were straightforward, although oddly  when I began to follow the instructions and ask for guidance in my morning writing,  answers did begin to appear on the pages. Things I’d known all the time, but hadn’t quite managed to access before.

I also found a lot of synchronicity turning up as I started to take action to change my life, as people and opportunities began to appear miraculously at just the right moment. My own take on this is that once you commit to doing something and begin it, things start to fall into place. Maybe that’s simply the same thing as synchronicity.

Writing The Memoir

Writing the Memoir, another running task through the whole book, was the hardest for me. It’s only now that I’ve reached the end, having dashed something off quickly every week,  that I realise how much has been stirred up from the depths of my memory pond. Thoughts, dreams and ideas that have been down there a long time in the silt are starting to drift up to the surface, propelling me to rediscover pursuits I enjoyed in the past but had given up on, or even forgotten.

Finishing The Artist’s Way for Retirement

So what do you do when the book’s over? My plan now is gradually to look back at what I’ve done, take some time to reflect, then begin again and go through the whole process a second time, selecting the parts I want to concentrate on. I suspect it will feel quite different, and deeper.

And this time I will write about it all in this blog – which only came into being as a result of following The Artist’s Way in Retirement. It was during Week 10, Reignite a Sense of Vitality that Beyond 60 punched its way out and started strutting around in my mind demanding that I just go online – now, please – and give birth to an idea that had been gestating for months if not years.

By pure synchronicity, finding Julia Cameron’s inspiring book came at exactly the right moment. It was 18 months since my final days of work, which had been a  period of recalibration and questioning and not knowing quite what to do. I’m still working on that, but I’ve got many more ideas and possibilities and had my curiosity and energy piqued and sparked by this excellent book.

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