On curing creative constipation

by Jonas Ellison

t’s tax day. Rory’s sleeping. I have an hour.

I’ve been reading a lot of Julia Cameron’s stuff lately. She wrote The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write (even better than The Artist’s Way), and a jillion other things. From short stories to novels to screenplays, she’s created it. In other words, she’s insanely prolific.

The reason I’ve been reading so much of her stuff is that I’ve been creatively constipated. Cameron is a creative coach. She helps artists get ‘unblocked.’ Plus, a friend recommended I read her stuff awhile back, so my new ailment gives me a reason to dig in.

Morning Pages = Creative Ex-Lax

One of the main creative tools Cameron recommends is something called morning pages. It’s basically a 3-page longhand stream of consciousness that’s done every morning.

Yes, every morning. No matter how busy you are, etc. You just do it.

So I’ve been doing these, and I love them. There’s no ‘wrong way’ to do them, so there’s no pressure. No deadlines. No point, other than to just act.

Morning pages, to me, are like creative Ex-Lax (no, this is not an endorsement). They’re awesome. I write them in Draft on ‘Hemmingway mode’ (when Draft is in Hemmingway mode, it won’t let you delete or move the cursor back) and it’s incredibly freeing (sorry, Julia, I cheat — I don’t do longhand, hurts my wrists).

Right now, my ‘morning pages’ are more like ‘daily pages.’ I do them every day, but not always in the morning. Reason being, the little honey badger (yes, that’s my 1.5 year-old girl, Rory) gets up at 6:30 am — about 30 minutes after I do — so she often stumbles out right when I sit down to write (we let mom sleep in — cuz we’re good like that).

Another thing I learned from Cameron is to fit in writing throughout your day whenever you can. She claims that if we wait for an open hour or two or three of uninterrupted free time, we’ll never write (another reason I haven’t been writing much of late — now I have no excuses).

Casey Neistat: Showing the world what blogging/vlogging is meant to be

Let’s jump around here, shall we? I’m reeeally loving the daily vlog of my favorite indy filmmaker in the world — Casey Neistat. His vlog (which is only about 2 weeks old now) captures what I love about blogging and goes against the ‘content marketing gurus’ of late who say talking about yourself is stupid and that you should only provide ‘useful information’ for your ‘audience’.

Neistat films his daily life. Little tidbits. From his morning run, to going to the gym, to heading in to work — whatever — Casey packages his day up in a handy little vlog post (usually about 6 minutes long) and shares it with the world.

I. Love. This.

Not because I’m getting any kind of ‘useful information’ out of them (although, occasionally, he goes into a slightly motivational rant or shows you his work flow), but there’s something much more human — much more real about this kind of content.

Like all of his movies, his vlog has his fingerprints all over them. They’re raw and quickly edited. Obvious fruits of a creative on the go. No time for polishing. Like life.

At a deeper level, his vlogs show that the most mundane day-to-day stuff of life can be quite refreshing and even interesting if shared in an ‘artful’ way. (I also learned from Cameron that the word ‘art’ derives from the verb to be, ‘artful’ would mean ‘full of being’.)

It shows we don’t need crazy baby mama drama, or violence, or scandal, like the Kardashianesque media suggests, to have a vibrant life.

Back to me

SO, that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll be taking snippets of my morning pages and boiling them down into Medium stories. Every. Day.

Yes, my logic brain (another term I learned from Cameron, describing the part of the brain that’s often called the lizard brain which holds our fear-based, survival instincts and fight/flight reactions) says that I’m too ‘busy’ to do this. My time is consumed with my work and being a dad (my kiddo is extremely high energy and HATES it when I’m on any kind of electronic device in her midst — unless it’s the TV and we’re watching Sesame Street together).

It’s not convenient. But I feel like if I produce a piece of work every day, I’ll come out of this creative rut (I can feel it happening now, as a matter of fact). Late last year, I posted every day for a month or two. I found that when doing this, my brain just came up with stuff.

The mind never runs out of ideas when it’s being used. But if it sits there, it atrophies and becomes… constipated.

Another motivating factor in doing this is that I’ve been geeking out on Stoicism lately, which is lighting a sizeable fire under my ass. There’s something very stoic about recording your days this way. Reflecting on them. Meditating on them. And sharing them.

These posts will be quickly edited but not polished. No time for that.

I have no idea what I’ll be writing ‘about’ or what my ‘goal’ is. Like this post, they’ll likely be pretty random. But I know that if you wait to know what you’re doing beforehand, you’ll never start. Like Steve Jobs said, we can only connect the dots looking back, not forward. The lines emerge out of doing stuff. Taking action.

So we’ll see. Maybe I’ll get some clarity and stumble on something big. Or not. At least I know that I’ll be more aware of every possible moment of my daily life for new material to put in these.

Who knows, I may even do video someday. I’m a horrible introvert, so it terrifies me, but that obstacle seems like a wall that needs broken down (a stoic concept right there).

We’ll see where this takes us…