Being an actor can be disheartening: it’s practically part of the job. If you’ve spent some time out there cutting your teeth like the rest of us, you’ve probably had a handful of wins and a barrelful of losses. And that’s perfectly normal. A big part of what will make you successful in this industry is finding ways to roll with the good and bad. In this article, I want to teach you a simple exercise you can put into practice tomorrow morning to help with all that bobbing and weaving. Here is a simple exercise you can put into practice tomorrow morning to help with all that bobbing and weaving you’re no doubt already doing so elegantly.
Writing Morning Pages is an exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. As a daily ritual, it helps you connect with your inner artist and quiet any voices within that might shout you down in your acting career. Given the sheer amount of uncertainty and rejection faced by actors every day, addressing negativity and building resilience are important parts of any actor’s skillset.
Firstly, if you haven’t already encountered it, put The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron at the top of your reading list. The method I’m going to tell you about comes straight out of this brilliant book, which is a must-read for any would-be artist. And this technique is just one of many you might want to fold into your own acting process.
That Annoying Little Voice
When I came out of drama school, I was pretty disillusioned about just how much of a stamina game being an actor really is; I learned very quickly that most of the time the biggest threat to your endurance is yourself. We all know the voice in our head that loves to tell us nasty little things about ourselves as actors:
“You’re not talented/good-looking/smart/funny enough to be an actor, why are you even trying?”
Horrible. And the more auditions we get that end with a no or radio-silence, the louder the voice becomes:
“You didn’t even get a call-back. Sally got a call-back, and she didn’t even do acting in high school. Why are you even trying?”
Firstly, good for Sally—I hope she got that role! But not so good for us. This annoying little voice is hard to ignore and even harder to shut up, but there is a way. Let’s start by learning this voice’s name.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls this little voice ‘The Censor’. It lives in the left side of our brains. This is our analytical, logical half that helps us solve problems and it usually does this by recognising patterns. If we are auditioning for projects and getting knocked back repeatedly, as is typically the case, our brain starts to pick up on the emotional response we are having to being knocked back and tries to find solutions. The brain’s simplest solution for most things is to tell us to stop doing the thing that is making us feel bad.
That’s why The Censor starts talking: to try to make us stop. But The Censor ends up doing more harm than good because, hopefully, we don’t want to stop being an actor and going for roles. So when we resist, The Censor really can get nastier and nastier for the sake of achieving its goal.
The Artist Brain
The antithesis to The Censor is ‘The Artist Brain’. This is the part of our brain that might look at a tree and imagine that it’s an alien lifeform that sprung forth from the bowels of the earth and those branches aren’t branches but long, winding tendrils that are reading the thoughts of anyone within a five-kilometre radius. It’s the part of our brain that is most active when we are children. Sadly, it becomes increasingly repressed as we grow older. A key part of acting well and without inhibition is to reconnect with your Artist Brain so you can better imagine what the shoes of the character you’re playing might feel like.
As you might expect, The Censor is out to get The Artist Brain, and The Censor also talks a lot louder. All its angry, spiteful thoughts drown own out our Artist Brain unless we do something about it. Thankfully, Julia Cameron knows exactly what that something is.
The truth is you can’t stop The Censor. Not completely. What you can do is quieten it down by giving it a chance to yell and kick and scream and have a tantrum so that it tires itself out for the day and lets The Artist Brain have its fun. You can do this with a practice called Morning Pages. Here’s how it works:
Each morning, when you wake up and get out bed, sit somewhere where you won’t be interrupted and write three A4 sized pages of whatever you can think of. Anything that comes into your mind. Angry thoughts, jealous thoughts, happy thoughts, sad thoughts; all of it belongs on the page. It could be what you did the day before, what you’re planning on doing today, anything. If you can’t think of anything to write, write that down, over and over if you have to. You’ll be surprised at what kind of things emerge from “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write” after a few lines. The pages don’t have to make sense and they probably won’t. They should be ugly, disjointed, bizarre and nonsensical because they are for you and you alone. No one else will ever see your Morning Pages, so go wild!
Why it’s Awesome
Julia Cameron spent some years living in Taos, New Mexico. Multiple screenwriting projects of hers had fallen through and she was left feeling down about her career and the industry in general. She lived in a small adobe home next to Taos Mountain and every morning she would wake up, sit at her desk near the window facing the mountain and write three pages without stopping. After writing like this for a while, she gradually started to ask the mountain questions in her pages. She didn’t get any answers until a character called Johnny waltzed into her pages and became a sort of guide, helping her puzzle out the mysteries of the mountain and suddenly she was writing a novel.
She has continued this practice for over 20 years now.
While you may not pen your magnum opus, what Morning Pages will do is help you reconnect with your creativity by calming The Censor and letting The Artist Brain pipe up. The practice will also help chart a map of your mind’s landscape and lead you towards a greater sense of self, which is imperative for any artist. It will also lead you towards constructive action instead of leaving you dwelling in the difficulties you are facing, showing you solutions that you hadn’t even considered.
And if you do fancy giving writing a go (which we always recommend here at StageMilk), then this is the perfect place to start!
Long story short: do your Morning Pages. The more skeptical of them you are, the better. You’ll be even more surprised when they start working their magic. Do them every morning, don’t skip them or skimp on them. And remember that there is no right or wrong, and that it may take time before you start to notice something happening. But trust that it is happening.
I hope this was helpful, see you around the traps!