Why I Stopped “Morning Pages”

Have you ever heard of morning pages? They are one of the basic tools laid out in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I recently had a writing instructor recommend her students read the book and begin the practice.

The morning pages practice is simple: rise early each day to write three pages “of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness” (10). One should use the space/time to get the gunk of life out of one’s head, down on the page, and move on from there. The book has many examples of the miracle of morning pages, about students who had started the practice and found success in their professional field, crediting morning pages for the breakthrough.

I was completely enamored with the idea. It was presented that if I could just journal for three pages every morning, well, then I’d start writing in a meaningful way and actually become a writer. Though I already had a pretty consistent journaling practice, this was a more structured take on it.

Since last fall until about two weeks ago, I was very dedicated to the morning pages. I would wake up at four AM before my twelve hour shifts to journal. I would journal on my days off my day job. I would sometimes write more than three pages. I would pull a tarot card and use that as a prompt. I felt very productive.

Can you guess what I wasn’t doing? I wasn’t writing anything creatively. No inspiration appeared “seemingly out of nowhere” (17). In fact, my morning pages turned into me writing that I was anxious about not writing. I was talking myself through it being ok that I wasn’t writing creatively. I was making excuses, writing, ‘well, at least I’m reading a lot right now.’ I would journal and then think ‘ok well there’s that writing done for today…now to go do my work/errands/chores/exercise/etc’ with no space left for the writing that I actually wanted to produce!

I talked this through with a writerly friend. About how journaling/morning pages was actually holding me back from writing. About just doing the damn thing and actually writing. I decided to say fuck it to morning pages and put my journal aside.

That was a week and a half ago.

Since opening up that time in my life — and giving my headspace a break of the ‘checked box’ that was morning pages — my creativity and desire to write creatively has grown. I still get up at four AM on a work day, but now I produce story. I read more short stories. I’ve nearly finished my own short story. I am doing. And that’s the real miracle.

I sailed The Starless Sea.

I read Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus, years ago. I liked it. I can’t say I loved it, because I don’t remember it that strongly. Having read The Starless Sea, I question if I enjoyed The Night Circus at all because Morgenstern’s sophomore release isn’t That Great. I wanted to love it.

The story doesn’t make sense. It’s written with a non-linear narrative, but I’m a sucker for a juicy, well-written non-linear narrative, so it wasn’t that. It was that nothing and no one had a motivation or basis in the novel.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the protagonist, which you know because his full name is repeated as the first words of the majority of the chapters, bludgeoning readers with his Importance. His tag (“the son of the fortune-teller”) is also oft repeated. Zachary Ezra Rawlins walks along kind of letting things happen to him for some unclear reason. Around page 150, I questioned if this novel was any good, because I didn’t feel connected to the protagonist or his motivations. There are multiple repeated symbols (bees, keys, swords, hearts, crowns, honey, owls, cats, the moon, etc.). I felt that they are symbols because they are repeated, and because they are repeated they are symbolic. The symbols are used in a universal sense, but they end up being meaningful only in very specific ways to Zachary Ezra Rawlins and his love interest.

Morgenstern is often cited as a wordsmith, and fans love her writing style. I found it irritating. She tries to say so much that not much is said at all. Words just to be words are not helpful. There is no basis to the melodic prose and it makes the story nonsensical.

The story gets interesting in the last sixth part (the novel is divided into VI books). Here, a secondary character, Kat, who has been absent for most of the novel, reappears to give backstory. Yes, it’s the whole non-linear thing, but the reader has been slogging along with clueless Zachary Ezra Rawlins this whole time not knowing why. Kat is an interesting and useful character. She has motivation, and moves the story along in a meaningful way.

I will grant that perhaps I didn’t “understand” the novel. Perhaps the lack of motivation is part of the theme of the novel (something something about fate and fortunes). Zachary Ezra Rawlins studies Emerging Media (video games), and he and Kat dialogue about Choose Your Own Adventure type games and narrative (Morgenstern herself is a gamer). Perhaps him bumbling along his adventure is part of the theme of the novel as well. It’s possible that Zachary Ezra Rawlins knows he’s supposed to do something because he read about himself in a book, again bringing about questions of fate and choice, but none of it is dissected or concluded in a satisfying manner. Book VI made the novel alright. The nearly 400 pages of luxuriant, comma-filled, pop-culture laden prose led by Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who I didn’t care about, wasn’t great.

I finally watched Lady Bird.

…like, a year later, but I finally watched it.

My expectations were super high for “Lady Bird” because the internet loved this movie and because how could all of those award noms be wrong?  This was advertise as a story about a strong female character, and I’m definitely here for that.  I wanted to like this movie, love this movie, be inspired by this movie.  I wanted a fresh story about a young woman going after her dreams and achieving.  Just the day before watching it, I texted my girlfriends to say that I wanted to see it “v badly.”

Halfway through the film, I realized I hated it and cringe-watched it to the end.  This film is an awkward mix of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Garden State.”  It has the same kitschy vibe and, in “Lady Bird’s” case, it makes it feel too structured.  Lady Bird’s reality is so perfectly teenage-early-aughts that I didn’t believe it because it feels completely curated.

Lady Bird is, by far, the least interesting character in the film.  Sure, she insists on everyone calling her Lady Bird, but why?  Where did the name come from?  She had plenty of interesting views that Greta Gerwig (the writer/director) just gave her.  I found Lady Bird vapid, shallow, and ungrateful, all the worse because, unlike her popular “friend” Jenna, she has no idea that she is those things.  Wouldn’t someone who wants to be called Lady Bird have a strong enough sense of self to not give a shit about the popular kids, and think it’s cool to give a shit about the school’s drama production?  I’m officially sick of the trope of the nerdy cool girl ditching her real friend(s), wanting to be popular and liked by everyone, and it being passed off as a “coming of age” story.

I wanted to know so much more about her mother, her adopted brother, the real reason why her brother’s girlfriend lived with them, her sad drama priest, Julie, what happened when Danny came out and so much less about Lady Bird, about whom, as it turns out, there is not much to know.

Lady Bird has no struggle in her life.  The actual worst thing in her life is that her mom loves her too much.  But Lady Bird hates her mom so much, she throws herself out of a moving vehicle.  Why wasn’t that attempted vehicular suicide ever mentioned again?  Lady Bird’s mother, a psych nurse, should know a cry for help when she sees one.

Sure, Lady Bird’s family is “poor,” and true poverty can be tough.  Unemployment and collective family trauma can be tough.  Yet, Lady Bird is so disconnected from her family’s narrative that she, behind her mother’s back, applies for college across the county.  Of course, she makes it to college in New York City and that’s where Lady Bird’s final bits of “growing up” happen.  The ending is hollow and brief.  Ultimately, I felt there is no reason for her to hate or love Sacramento.  It was such a huge part of the plot, but with no supporting information about it.  We never got a sense of Sacramento beyond the fact that we are told that Lady Bird hates it (and then, also that she loves it).

“Lady Bird” is nothing new.  Lady Bird is another manic pixie dream girl, another John Green female supporting character, another hipster claiming originality.  “Lady Bird” is another “Girls.”  I will allow that if this movie wasn’t so hyped, I might have enjoyed it, but “Lady Bird” is old hat.