I used to struggle with writing. I always loved reading. But finding my own words never came easily. I knew I wanted to write and I offered to write short pieces for the membership magazine of a charity I worked for, but I’d sit there in front of the screen, writing five words and deleting three.
One teacher at school told me I suffered from over-brevity. Another at university said my writing was pedestrian. Fancy words and long sentences just didn’t come naturally. It turns out that plain writing is one of my strengths as a copywriter. It turns out that my ability to get to the point and use as few words as possible is something that other people strive for in digital marketing writing.
I’m celebrating ten years of being a freelance writer and it’s not something I ever would have dreamed of becoming when I was younger, when writing was a struggle.
The one thing that helped make writing easier for me was simply to do more of it. And the way I allowed myself to do more of it was through freewriting.
It’s not a new concept. Peter Elbow wrote about it in his book Writing Without Teachers in 1973:
Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write “I can’t think what to say, I can’t think what to say” as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop.
But it was new to me when I joined a creative writing class in 2002. I remember the wonder I felt when I did some freewriting and the teacher suggested we underline phrases that stood out to us. I went through and underlined a few words. Then she asked us to write those on a separate page and read them out. I had the beginnings of a poem staring up at me. It was amazing to pull a poem out of the rubble, rather than to start with the blank page waiting for the right words to form in my head before committing ink to them.
I soon found it was a technique many writers use and one that became popular with Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.
*There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
I do morning pages. Not every day. Not every morning. And not always three pages. But I let my thoughts spill onto paper as often as I can. It helps clear my head, it helps pave the way for creative thinking, it helps me focus.