Memories of a past life: morning pages and motherhood

I admit, I haven’t written morning pages for a long, long time.

But this blog is about my writing journey, and for a time when I was on maternity leave, and a short while afterwards, morning pages were my salvation.

I started writing them when I was reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way is entirely responsible for me starting to write again in the first place, as Cameron’s words, and the words of the other creatives she quotes in the book, allowed me to begin to get my story down, and to start finding my voice – the voice of a new mum who was still finding her feet, and the voice of the troubled teen and young adult who hadn’t seen daylight for years.

I loved being a mum, but it was hard. We were living in a small village in North Yorkshire, far away from my family, far away from friends, and far away from the person I’d once been. My life consisted of our son’s routine, which I stuck to rigidly, only venturing out to do things with him – NCT coffee mornings, Swimbabes, or the odd play date with other mums from my NCT group. But most of the time, I felt like I didn’t exist.

Morning pages changed all that. The idea of them is that you write three sides of A4 first thing in the morning, without stopping to think about what you’re writing – because if you can’t censor your writing, then there’s no room for your inner critic to interrupt and derail your train of thought. When you’ve finished your three pages, you stop and put the pages away.

I admit, I did cheat a little, as I’d often begin with an idea of what I wanted to try and write about. But I still wrote them, and the things they brought up became the lifeblood of the memoir I was writing about my drinking days.

In those pages, I wrote about anything and everything. I wrote about how tired I was, and how unsure I was of myself as a mum and a human being. I wrote about my future study plans and ‘debated’ whether or not to pursue a career in psychology or counselling. I rediscovered my cultural identity, and my identity as a woman. I wrote about the places I belonged, and didn’t belong. I wrote character sketches for the people I’d write about in the memoir. I set myself targets for finishing the first draft, and for how many words I could write in a day, a week, or a month. I wrote lists of books to read – on creative writing and editing, and novels and other memoirs that looked interesting. I spoke directly to my inner critic, and discovered the reasons it had taken me so long to start writing.

Writing morning pages enabled me to get to know the person I’d become since I’d got sober at the age of twenty-four, and why I was the way I was.

In sobriety, I was a sensible person. I did everything I was supposed to do, never let my hair down, and quite frankly, was a little bit square. I knew my youth was behind me, and in some ways, that was just fine. I knew I’d never get drunk and snog strangers again, or fall down stairs in nightclubs, or wake up thirsty and tearful at four in the morning only to drink the last few dregs of whiskey or vodka in the bottle.

Morning pages helped me to remember those bad times. They also helped me mourn the better times, even though I knew deep down I didn’t really want them back. But I needed to relive those memories, and preserve them so that I could remember that before I started hurtling towards my rock bottom, some of those drunken days were pretty fabulous and special.

I’d never never have silly drunken girly chats again… I’d never roll on the floor laughing drunk with friends about how we’d gatecrashed a band on stage the night before… I’d never walk down the street drunk in daylight with friends who knew me at my worst, with a feather duster in one hand and water pistol in the other, singing ‘Wannabe’ by The Spice Girls…

…I’d never sing, or dance again.

Suddenly, all I could see was my youth getting further and further away, and middle-aged, middle class mediocrity looming.

I had to find myself in the midst of that, find the old me – then I could march boldly into the future, knowing I wasn’t lost.

Morning pages helped me find myself. They helped me come to terms with my past, and the struggles I’d endured that had led to me becoming a drunken mess in the first place. They helped me to carve out the story I wanted to tell, of a lost teenage girl, hopeless, misplaced, having no idea how to address the bullying I’d suffered in my early days at high school: the name-calling, the dinner money stealing, the chasing and stripping in the changing rooms, or the sexual assault I never spoke about that changed me forever the summer I was seventeen.

Morning pages helped me to remember the girl who survived, who found a way to belong. She wasn’t very functional; she drank triple gin and tonics, chain-smoked Marlborough Lights, and slept around. But she was fun, she was popular, and she was always the one at the centre of the joke.

She was also a bit of a flake, and even though she always said she’d have done anything for anybody, she wasn’t a very good friend to others in the end.

Morning pages were also my way of remedying that. I would write that girl’s story, and I’d do it as a testimony to those people I hurt, those friends I lost, and also as a way of telling the school bullies that they hadn’t won, they hadn’t broken me. It was time to speak my truth.

Obviously, I didn’t write the whole of the first draft of my memoir in morning pages, but they gave my writing day structure. I wrote my three pages first thing in the morning, before my son got up (we were very lucky he was a great sleeper), then during his first nap of the day, I’d read my notes (I know you’re not really supposed to). During his second nap, I’d write. And as the months went by, the pages started filling up, and my story started to come alive.

I’m sorry to say that my morning pages went by the wayside a long time ago. Life took over. I went back to work after maternity leave, and I didn’t have time to do them everyday. Then my son started cutting down his naps, and I stopped completely.

Sometimes I look back on those days, and I can’t believe I dug my way out. But I did. I found a way to be a mum and be myself at the same time. I thrived. My son thrived. Our family thrived.

Now, with two kids and studying part-time, morning pages are a distant memory. I couldn’t tell you the last time I thought about writing them.

Until I started this blog post. And now I’m remembering how transformative and empowering they were, I’m wondering why I ever stopped. I think I need to find time amongst my busy life of school runs and essays and agent submissions to write them again. Who knows where they’ll take me?

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Author: lifeandtimesofamemoirwriter

I am a writer based in East Anglia. Currently writing a memoir about alcoholism and student life during the mid-1990s Brit Pop / Girl Power era (long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2014).

2 thoughts on “Memories of a past life: morning pages and motherhood”

  1. Not having heard the term’morning pages’ before so I was intrigued to discover what they were. Now I’m enlightened (thank you), I mourn your loss of those special times (no pun intended). obviously they provided a cathartic experience.

    Like

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