At 30 years old, Brian Koppelman was desperate to leave his job as a music label executive. Instead of finding the next big artist, he wanted to become one. But, he was blocked creatively. He spent nights and weekends working on screenplays, struggling to finish them. Time was ticking. His wife was expecting their first son in a few months and he feared he’d be a depressed and angry father if he didn’t fulfill his creative potential.

After some trial and error, he discovered two techniques that sparked his creativity. Over the next couple decades, he co-wrote critically acclaimed screenplays for movies and TV shows like Billions, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Rounders. Brian had achieved his dreams.

How did he do it?

The two techniques he used are called Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

Tools for Creativity

Every morning, I pick up my black ballpoint pen and write three pages of stream of consciousness writing in my thick leather notebook. These are Morning Pages.

Before I tried Morning Pages, I always found excuses for why I couldn’t write. Now I use Morning Pages as a “brain drain” for all my fears, doubts, and anxieties. This gives my mind the clarity needed to consistently produce creative work like writing code all day and maintaining a weekly newsletter.

On weekends, I try to do something playful, creative, or adventurous on my own for a couple hours. This is the Artist Date. Some of my personal favorites include going on a long walk or rummaging through a hipster bookstore. Other times I’ll cook an elaborate meal, dance to music, or watch a classic movie.

Before trying Artist Dates, I found it hard to get inspired for new creative projects. Over time, Artist Dates have expanded my creative horizons by connecting me with my inner child.

Morning Pages and Artist Dates come from a book calledThe Artist’s Way, which Brian has gifted to many of his Hollywood friends:

“Of the 100 people I’ve given [the book] to, maybe ten of them have actually opened the book and done the exercises. Of those ten, seven have had books, movies, TV shows, and made out successful.” [1]

So why do these two simple techniques work?

The Psychology of Morning Pages

As children, we are deeply connected with our artistic abilities. We use our imagination and playfulness to create sand castles and play elaborate games of dress up. But as we get older, we stop creating and start telling ourselves all the reasons why we can’t create. “I’m not good enough.” “Nobody will care.” “People will make fun of me”. Let’s call this voice, the Creativity Censor.

The Creativity Censor stands between us and our Inner Child. We all still have a part of our Inner Child with us, but the Creativity Censor has been in charge for so long that our Inner Child rarely gets a chance to express itself.

So how can we tame the Creativity Censor and reconnect with our Inner Child? The key is to let the Creativity Censor release its doubts, fears, and anxieties in a healthy way. This is what Morning Pages are for. As the Creativity Censor releases it’s baggage through Morning Pages, the Inner Child can begin to flourish.

All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about your job, your last Instagram post, that pimple on your face, what your creepy co-worker said to you yesterday - this stuff sits in our subconscious and clouds our days. Get it on the page.[2]

There’s no wrong way to do Morning Pages. Write about whatever comes to mind. Your fears, your dreams, your unpleasant mother-in-law, the dreamy actor you’ve been fantasizing about, or that barista at the coffee shop which you still haven’t struck up the nerve to talk to. Doesn’t matter. Just write three pages.

Morning Pages isn’t about improving your writing skill. It’s about disarming the Creativity Censor so your Inner Child can shine through.

Why Artist Dates Work

At any given moment, we only have a finite amount of creativity to use. It’s like a well.

Any time we do something creative like write an essay, launch a marketing campaign, or design a landing page, we use some of our creative wellspring.

Artist Dates ensure your creative wellspring is stocked with the waters of inspiration.

My personal favorite is going on long walks. On these walks, I think through hard problems, come up with new ideas, and take a step back from day-to-day minutiae. Another personal favorite is going to a hipster bookstore and skimming poems, comics, and sketches.

Taking time for Artist Dates has helped give me the creative energy to write code at work all day, maintain a weekly newsletter, learn to draw, research new ideas, and write short fiction stories.

Like a real child, your Inner Child needs time to play and explore. Morning Pages are like prayers. They empower you to share fears, ambitions, and anxieties without judgement. Meanwhile, the Artist’s Date is when you receive answers. They provide the spark for new ideas, connections between old ideas, and courage to explore other creative outlets. Morning Pages and Artist Dates are two sides of the same creative coin.

Six Tips for Morning Pages and Artist Dates

After using Morning Pages and Artist Dates for the past few months, here are six tips that have helped me:

  1. Do Morning Pages first thing in the morning. This ensures your mind is cleared before doing anything creative. Think of it as a bath for your brain.
  2. When writing Morning Pages, always do it by hand. It’s slower, but that’s the point. It allows you to feel every word get extracted from your system and onto the page.
  3. Once you start, don’t put down the pen until you’re finished writing three pages. Just write whatever pops in that head of yours.
  4. Shred, burn, or throw away the notebooks you use for Morning Pages. This reinforces the idea that you shouldn’t care about your writing quality during the exercise.
  5. Artist Dates should be done solo. Time alone ensures you’re able to wrestle with your ideas and sculpt them into something you want to share.
  6. You don’t need to spend money on Artist Dates. Just do something that makes you feel like a kid again.

Overcoming Creative Blocks

Feeling blocked is a part of creative life. Morning Pages and Artist Dates are two tools for unblocking the Inner Child within all of us.

In the words of Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” [2]

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Thank you to the Compound Writing members who reviewed this post: Alexander Hugh Sam, Kevin Shiuan, Tyler Wince, Dan Hunt, Nick Drage, Philip Thomas, and Tom White.

  1. https://medium.com/the-beta-mode/morning-pages-the-most-cost-effective-therapy-b560fdbada4
  2. The Artist’s Way, “The Basic Tools” section
  3. https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/every-child-is-an-artist-by-nature/

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Posted 
Aug 12, 2020
 in 
Psychology
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