Morning Pages, Dark and Light

Morning pages are the first-thing-in-the-morning writing you do if you have ever read Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. Cameron describes morning pages as “. . . 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 about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”

For years, when I wrote morning pages, I sat, wrote, and shredded them. They were too dismal and painful for anything else. Then I began to keep them and read them every now and then. To my relief, I was getting less angry, bitter, disappointed. To my greater relief, my writing was improving.

Occasionally, I do morning pages in a journal. My goal is to keep my writing unedited, just as it comes out. After trying out some Sakura pens, I discovered the clear gel pen in the Gelly Roll Glaze series was perfect for writing morning pages with. You can’t see what you are writing. I began to play with words–after all, using the clear pen allowed me to be clear. I cleared my head. “Clearly” became the keyword for the result of morning pages. Not looking at my writing made me write more boldly, effortlessly, and soulfully.

Journal page, written on in clear Sakura gel pen, covered with watercolor wash. © Quinn McDonald 2011

Then I decided to cover the whole writing with a watercolor wash. Doing that, I discovered a new keyword–resist. The clear gel pen acted as a resist, drying up through the watercolor wash, allowing me to read what I had written. (The page is more clear than above, I deliberately made some of it unreadable–TMI.)

I resist what I need to know, resist claiming what I need to claim, even resist showing up in the world the way I want to. And the pen showed that. No matter what you wash over yourself, you always show up as yourself.

I love the contrast between “clear” and “resist.” You can have both on one page. It’s taught me to think of my day in terms of “clear” and “resist.”

Dive into your own morning pages–clear pen or not. What do you wish were clear to you? What do you resist, even though you need it? Let me know in the comments–or just in your morning pages.

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler whose book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be available in July of 2011.

Channeling Klimt

In Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in This World, she suggests an interesting exercise–channel a dead artist, any artist, not necessarily in your art medium–and write down what the artist has to say in your morning pages. Interesting idea. So last night, before I went to sleep, I called upon Gustav Klimt, the expressionist artist. I had found this quote of his:

I have the gift of neither the spoken nor the written word, especially if I have to say something about myself or my worik. Whoever wants to know something about me—as an atrist, the only notable thing—ought to look carefully at my pictures and try to see them in what I am and what I want to do.

This seemed to be a well-found quote. We artists often become inarticulate when discussing our own work, and so detailed and powerful when we use our work to express our ideas.

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

Klimt challenged the viewer to decipher his work, to put effort into understanding what he meant. Each viewer brings personal and intimate ideas, dreams, and preferences when they look at a work of art. The artist has no idea of what those ideas are when he is producing the work.

Klimt painted women, and in his most famous series, he made extensive use of gold and silver gilding.

Gold and silver gilding was nothing new, it had been used for hundreds of years when he started. Klimt used the color to infuse light into his work, and more than that, he illuminated his very different work in which he used repetitive geometric shapes to bring life to his subjects. And that’s what I channeled–the personal use of old technique applied with new meaning. How we have to use what we know to create what we are just discovering. How what we don’t know is what we explore and understand through our work.

Oh, I know Klimt wasn’t personally talking to me. I’ve been struggling with this issue for a few years now–what is a new idea? Are there any? To my relief, the answer is yes–but you have to dig for them.

–Quinn McDonald is working on a book to be published by North Light Books in 2011.

Creativity and Anger

Most artists know Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Many creative people who enjoyed that book will enjoy Walking In This World as well. I’m running an on-line reading group for the book, and this week is Chapter 3. Having struggled through Chapter 2, I was a little weary and more than a little wary.

Chapter 3 is worth the whole book. It’s on anger, and using anger as a creative impulse. Cameron says,

“Anger is a profoundly powerful fuel that we can use to make art and to make more artful lives. When we deny our anger or fritter it away in complaints, we are wasting precious fuel and precious clarity.”

Who knew? I’ve been trying to be less angry lately, more compassionate.

I was at a business meeting yesterday, and another participant was condescending and patronizing to me. I made myself feel patience and gratitude. Yes I did. But a teeny portion of me wanted to grab her super-hot skinny caramel freakychino and pour it over her bleached head. I felt bad about that emotion. I said something kind to her.  She then insulted me. I struggled to tell myself this was about her, not me, and feel gratitude. I did not feel gratitude. I felt rage. I wanted to walk toward her with my arms open wide to hug her and then just hug her neck a little hard till she turned blue. I did not feel compassion.

Julia Cameron didn’t scold me. Right there, on p. 66, she says, “Rage at a bully or at a bullying situation is actually a wonderful sign. Once we own it, it is our own rage at allowing ourselves and others to be bullied. If it is our own, we can use it. Yes, this rage feel murderous and distorting, but is is actually a needed corrective. If our rage is that large, so are we.”

That idea—that our huge rage indicates our size, our talent—is revolutionary. When I came home, I was exhausted from all that suppressed anger. I wanted to go to bed, but that doesn’t help my anger, so I worked on the book I’m writing. I charged through almost a whole chapter, creating a draft of strong emotion and power, none of it anger. I was amazed.

Again, here’s what Cameron says:
“Anger is a call to action. It is challenging and important to let our light shine. It is important to name ourselves rather than wait for someone else to do it, or pretend that we can continue to bear it when we can’t. When we complain that others do not take ourselves and our values seriously, we are actually saying that we don’t. If our aesthetics matter so much to us, we must act on them in a concrete and specific form.”

Anger is a creative urge and a power to be harnessed in service to our creativity. Once the anger fuels the creativity, it also fuels the creative solution. And that brings us back to the place where we can feel calm, compassion and even humor.  Without the release of writing, I might still be replaying that scene from yesterday in anger and humiliation. When I wrote this post, I felt not a shred of anger or resentment. It was gone, vanished like rain on a hot rock. There is power in anger and it is fuel of creativity.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She is the author of the 2011 book, Raw-Art Journaling; Making Meaning, Making Art.

New Class: Explore Your Creativity in 2010

Thinking about New Year’s Resolutions? Nope, me either. There are still a ton of holidays to bake for, shop for, decorate for. New Year’s seems a loooong way off.

New Year’s Day is 26 days away. Less than four weeks. New Year’s usually means resolutions. I’ve been against that idea for a long time. Written about it several times.

Julia Cameron's book "Walking In This World"

No sense complaining unless you come up with a solution. What I don’t like about New Year’s resolutions is that they are too vague, too general, aren’t planned with support, and are forgotten in a week. I also think that when we make a resolution we fear the change. Change is hard. Change alone is even harder. So here’s my plan:

1. Do something to explore your creativity. Something focused. Something that gives you support.

2. If you’ve heard of Julia Cameron, you know that she wrote a book called The Artist’s Way–the beginning of creativity coaching. Cameron also wrote a book called Walking in This World–The Practical Art of Creativity. Like The Artist’s Way, it is a support guide for creativity. You don’t need to have read one to get something from the other.

3. I’m going to run an online reading group on Walking In This World. The book has 12 chapters. We will cover one chapter a week, starting on January 12. We’ll read the chapter, do the exercise at the end, and discuss what happened, what we thought, how we progressed each week.  As a creativity coach, I can also tell you that it’s a good way to experience one kind of creativity coaching. It’s a group coaching, but you’ll discover the kind of support for change you’ll find. You don’t have to be an artist, simply want to explore your creativity. Or your fear of your own creativity.

4. I’ll form a Yahoo Group for the class and open a PayPal window so you can pay on my website. The class will meet through the Yahoo Group. You’ll be able to discuss,  post images, ask questions. The class will cost $30, but I’m donating $10 of each registration to the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a fund for artists who have met with some disaster and need help getting back on their feet. Everyone benefits.

5. After you pay, I’ll send you an invitation to join the group. Be prepared for 13 weeks of work. If your first reaction is that you don’t have time, it’s a perfectly normal. We don’t want to do things for ourselves. We don’t want to commit. But this is not about a grinding class. This is about your creativity and finding some support for it.

The only thing you need to do is buy the book–there is a link to on my website. (Or borrow it from the library, but you’ll want to write in it.)  Still think it’s too hard? It’s your gremlin or negative self-talk. Gremlins kick up and tell you what not to do for yourself. You’ll come up with a thousand reasons not to do this for yourself. There is only one reason to do it: it will help you make meaning in your life.

This class also makes an excellent holiday gift. Combined with the purchase of the book, it’s a wonderful jump start gift for a friend’s  creativity.  (To keep it simple, give them the check or cash and the link to join.)

Please join us starting January 12 for this exciting, meaningful work that honors and supports your creativity.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who trains businesses how to communicate effectively with their clients and helps people who don’t draw or write to keep art journals.

What do I do with my journal?

Are you afraid that someone will find out your journal secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? If this is keeping you from writing in a journal, could you reconsider? There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

If you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

open journalJulia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life such a secret, let me encourage you to let go. Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Sure, she had bright moments, but they were short and quickly dispensed with.

After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. I never found out what had shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this other person. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal writing. See her work at You can also read about Raw Art Journaling for journal writers who can’t draw.