We decide how tomorrow will be by what we create today
Mon, 04/12/2021 – 01:15
The other morning, for the 100th consecutive day, I wrote three pages in my notebook. No specific agenda. No writing prompt. Simply three pages, handwritten with my Bic ReAction No. 2 mechanical pencil, about whatever came to mind.
One hundred days in a row. Honoring the practice.
These morning pages, as they’re known, have become an essential part of my daily ritual, a way to get past the run-of-the-mill observations, gripes and worries that make me very human. Because underneath all that stuff flowing across the surface of my conscious mind lies a deep reservoir of creativity.
In that reservoir of creativity, answers emerge: how to nourish myself, cultivate gratitude and joy, contribute solutions to the problems that call me, make the impact I dream of.
You, too, have this reservoir of creativity.
Creativity is an act of leadership, and practice is all we can control.
You might be tapping a hardy vein of it right now. Or, if you’re like most people I know, you’re only plumbing a fraction of your possibility. Your creativity might be buried beneath your worries, your busyness, your to-do lists or your idea that you’re not a creative person. It might be bottled up by burnout, or by the very natural clenching our bodies are doing in response to these troubled times.
But it’s there. It’s rich. And the world needs it.
Your well of creativity is where solutions to our deeply interconnected challenges live, waiting to emerge and play and meld with other people’s ideas.
Daily practices help us open these creative reservoirs.
I first learned of morning pages in 2017, when I was longing to rekindle my extinguished writing practice. A friend asked if I’d heard of “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron. I leafed through his copy of the book, bought my own and surrendered to its simple recipe for creative awakening.
“The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write,” Cameron says. “So what if you’re tired, crabby, distracted, stressed? Your artist is a child and it needs to be fed. Morning pages feed your artist child.”
And I have, for three years, with some breaks along the way. My stacks of completed morning pages — black and white marbled composition books, blue National Brand Chemistry notebooks, thin beige Muji journals — contain some of the dullest details you can imagine. The kind of cereal I’m eating. How I prefer that Red Bay Coffee blend over this one. Trees I can see through the window. How my pencil is leaving a callused dent in my ring finger. Whether three pages in this new journal counts the same as three pages in the larger journal I’ve just filled.
My morning pages also contain descriptions of my suffering. Physical aches and pains. Heartbreak from the end of an 18-year-marriage. Confusion about how to live and parent during a global pandemic. Fears that our planet will be intolerably hot in just a few decades.
And, importantly, my morning pages both celebrate my growth and enable it. I said yes to poetry and meditation classes in my journals before I signed up. I dreamed of deepening my romantic relationship with my partner before I allowed it to happen. I imagined creating programs to support climate and social-impact leaders before I created them.
They also shifted my sense of identity. Because I write every day, I can say that I am someone who writes every day.
Most of the time, I don’t notice any specific outcomes from the practice. The pages are filled with blah-blah-blah. I have to trust that pouring my thoughts onto the page will open space for the deeper ideas to come out later, like creating more room for oxygen between logs so the fire burns hotter.
And some days, as my hand flows across the page, magic happens. The observing part of my mind calls out, “Hey, that’s a good analogy for an essay.” Or, “Wouldn’t those words be fun to explore in a poem?” Or, “You should totally try that idea in your business.”
I find things I otherwise wouldn’t have found, I pluck them from my pages, I create and, in large or small ways, I share what I create.
Marketer Seth Godin argues that making and sharing creative work is an act of leadership. It’s our effort to bring change to the world. Yet, he says in his most recent book, “The Practice,” we can’t control the outcome. We can’t control whether people like our work, or whether it actually changes anything. All we can control is the process. All we can control is our practice.
“There’s a practice available to each of us — the practice of embracing the process of creation in service of better,” he writes. “The practice is not the means to the output, the practice is the output, because the practice is all we can control.”
My hundred-day run began Dec. 22. Each time I complete my morning pages, I check off the task in a habit-tracking app, which keeps me motivated to keep the streak going.
During these 14 weeks, I completed morning pages at my kitchen table in Oakland, in my partner Abby’s apartment in Sausalito, in a Salt Lake City hotel room, in the passenger seat of my car as she drove us toward Colorado, and at the dining table of our rented home in Crested Butte.
How did I celebrate reaching my hundred-day milestone? I took a screenshot of my habit-tracker. I texted a party face emoji to the friend who’d introduced me to “The Artist’s Way.” And I wrote this essay — another act of creativity that came from my practice.
Then, the next morning, I wrote another three pages. Day 101. Because I’m not done creating.
You aren’t either.
Each day, the world asks us to invent it anew. We decide how tomorrow will be by what we create today.
So, remember that creativity is an act of leadership, and practice is all we can control. Let’s get started.