Monday, 5 October 2020

Just Keep Pumping

In her bestseller The Artist's Way Julia Cameron recommends a routine she calls 'morning pages.' Each day, we're urged to set aside a block of time for free flow writing and honour the commitment no matter how we feel. Whether our writing seems like pearls of wisdom or trite rambling, it must go down on paper. When we're in a writing slump or a tired mood, it's easy to write such a habit off as a colossal waste of time. Why add to the glut of writing out there when we have nothing to say?

I always gave the nod to Julia's advice without being hyper-vigilant about it. Common sense tells me it's like keeping the pump primed, thinking of those old outdoor water pumps from former generations. If we go through the motions of cranking the handle a couple of times daily, it'll help prevent squeaking and stiffness from setting in. The same goes for that hardened plug of tomato sauce near the neck of the bottle, which has been exposed to air over a long period of time. If we simply give it a regular shake and squeeze, it has no time to congeal to something that's hard to budge.

It makes logical sense to think that our creative brains run on the same principle. Sure, we also like to believe that they're subject to wonderful phenomena like divine inspiration, but I've noticed that the guy God tends to inspire is the one who always has his pen or keyboard handy. 

At last I've read some interesting evidence to back this principle up; not with morning pages as such, but with making sure I squeeze in some daily writing time. In his book Atomic Habits, author and journalist James Clear recounts an experiment that took place in a class of undergraduate photography students. Half the students were assigned to a 'quantity group' and instructed to just keep churning out photos. Their assessment would be based on the sheer number they managed to submit by the end of semester. So those guys and gals rushed off to start snapping their trigger happy fingers whenever and wherever they could.

The others were assigned to a 'quality group.' The teachers told them they didn't care about numbers, but just wanted one or two of the most awe-inspiring and professional photos they could manage. So this crowd walked away thoughtfully to start researching techniques, gaining a solid knowledge base and waiting for ideal conditions. 

The staff were quite surprised themselves to find that the best quality photos consistently came from the quantity group. It wasn't just that the quality group sabotaged themselves by overthinking and building perfectionist mindsets, although this certainly came into play. The quantity group simply expanded their skill sets quicker by vital practice. Even though they were focused on sum total rather than excellence, the process of actually getting out there and having a go over and over again ensured that an admirable, sound quality was a welcome pay-off.   

I've sometimes found myself a bit bogged down in recent years, what with moving house, kids growing older, doing a bit of study, and most recently the anxiety of our Covid era. I'd decreased my own personal blog output from two or three to just one a week, which felt sensible. But it also made it easier to keep drafts sitting there for months, just because I balked at the thought of facing them. I did the same with the creative projects I was working on. Just because there was no urgency and nobody to care whether they appeared or not made it easy to slow right down. That hasn't really been the blessing I expected it to be.

From here on out, I'm committing myself to working on some writing every day, no matter what the result turns out to be. Because the notion that 'just dashing something off' is a slapdash approach might be one of the biggest lies we feed ourselves. What if it's really what gives us our impetus and our well-oiled edge? 

I'd love to know how all of you have faced this issue too. We are the Christian Writers Dowunder. (And some of us are also artists of various kinds.) How is your writing or art routine going? 

Paula Vince is a South Australian author and former homeschooling mother of three children. She lives in the beautiful coastal region of Adelaide. Her novels include the award-winning Best Forgotten and Picking up the Pieces, along with Australia's only collaborated Christian fiction novel, The Greenfield Legacy. She regularly blogs about matters related to books and literary appreciation on her own blog, The Vince Review. 

1 comment:

  1. I tried a couple of times to write "morning pages" but gave up. It seemed to me that the exercise was more suited to extraverts because their thoughts seem to flow more freely than mine do.

    Interestingly I do write something most mornings but it is prompted by what I've read, so not "free flow writing".

    If the writing is the important part, does it matter what prompts it?