I’ve always loved writing. It is probably what I do best and I enjoy it.
Talking about it, teaching it, and doing it has always been fun for me. This summer It has become something more. Writing has become therapy and a source of guidance for me.
I owe a lot of that to the work of Julia Cameron, whose book “The Right to Write” has been accompanying me to Starbucks for weeks. It contains over 40 small chapters of teaching and exercises.
Cameron begins each chapter with an “invitation”, in which she describes her own personal experiences related to writing and life. Then she provides what she calls an “initiation tool” to use to apply her thoughts.
Three of Cameron’s ideas have been of particular help to me. One has been her effort to convince her readers that writing is not some great task reserved for only the elite and talented. This teaching literally has given me the right to write. Because of this I have felt unchained in terms of getting thoughts on paper.
Once she freed me from my intellectual prison, Cameron gave me a couple of practical devices to unleash my own ruminations. Her Morning Pages (sometimes “mourning pages) are three pages of handwritten writing first thing before the day starts. This is “stream of consciousness” writing. Night Notes are the posing of questions right before bed for up to ten minutes.
The beauty of any teaching is that you can make it your own. I have tried to stick to Julia’s dictums despite my weaknesses. I am not a morning person and find it difficult to get going. I have found others struggle with this exercise for the same reason.
As a result, I find I don’t get these pages done every day, or that I do them later on in the morning. This would probably be fine with Cameron. She says that Morning Pages are “not high art” and that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.”
This morning I struggled to get through three pages. I found myself drawing regular and irregular shapes on the lines in my composition books just to get through. Even this strategy was helpful because it reminded me that one of the best ways to get something done well is to think outside of the box.
With Night Notes the writer is supposed to sleep on the questions and allow the subconscious to provide answers. Because I actually forgot this feature I have been answering the questions as I pose them before sleeping. Again, I have come upon some beneficial ideas although I “broke the rules.”
What I have found is that these tools have helped me to clear the deck in my mind. A lot of the baggage is done away with. One effect of this is my thinking becomes more focused. Another is that my emotions are stabilized because I have vented them on the page.
Cameron has offered to me in organized form the wisdom of the greats. For example, Bob Dylan uses similar thinking and methods as hers to get his ideas down. He was asked by interviewer Paul Zollo how he got thoughts out of his mind. He replied,
Well, first of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a good song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of all them thoughts.”
When the mind is clean of garbage and issues come into clearer focus by getting them onto the page, movement can be made. Dylan says once the baggage is gotten rid of, “then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see but it can’t affect you. Where you can bring something to the matter, besides just take, take, take, take, take.”
Getting rid of the mud of the mind allows God to enter into our thinking. In my post about Dylan’s divine inspiration, I noted how his lyrics were influenced by the divine. I also explained that Cameron makes no bones about the benefits of listening to spiritual sources as we write.
While her writings about this are more eclectic in terms of who or what to access than I personally would prefer, I have gained by not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Applying her axioms in the context of my own beliefs about God and truth have been quite profitable.
As a Christian I seek to learn what God wants of me through reading the Bible and through prayer. Thus, I try to ask questions of Him, tell Him my own desires, and listen for His answer.
Further, I use my own God-given brain combined with what seems to be God’s leading to make decisions. Before you claim that this is all “pie in the sky bye and bye”, I must explain how I believe the process works.
I see God’s leading as working more like a GPS device than a road map. 20th century pastor J. Vernon McGee said that God does not hand out road maps. In fact, he decried false piety in which people claimed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty.
I recently listened to a sermon by McGee about the story Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whose line Jesus would come, and how she decided to support herself and her mother-in-law Naomi when they were poor. Ruth decided to glean grain from local fields. Gleaning was a practice allowed in Israel in ancient times as a means to support the needy.
One day she came to two fields from which to glean grain. One was owned by Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth had come to Israel with her when her husband, Naomi’s son, died. She did this as a step of faith and out of a willingness to follow the God of Naomi’s people.
McGee said that Ruth did not have a vision or a dream from God. He explained that she reasoned on the spot to go into the field of Boaz based on the situation before her. One thing led to another and she married Boaz, and thus became a distant grandmother of Jesus.
“God’s leading-yes,” said McGee. “But He’s leading a heart that’s willing to be led, and going step by step by faith.” Ruth was such a person.
Thus, the writing tools taught by Cameron and used by expert artists such as Bob Dylan have helped me to seek God and His leading as Ruth did. As I write I believe He leads me step-by-step to great truths and informs decisions that have to be made.
What I have learned has given me great peace. It has also produced spiritual healing. I can live one day at a time, trusting God to communicate with me, not necessarily in spectacular ways, but through normal means of grace like the Bible and prayer, and though practical tasks such as writing, a practice I love anyway.