#fridayflash: morning pages

It was easy to blame it on the recession, on people opting for crappy corporate-drone versions instead of getting a professional to do it, on ageism, but even with all of these taken into account she wasn't getting the freelance gigs she used to. She still made herself read the industry news, just so she could keep an idea of what was popular, what was selling, but it was rarer for her to go out and actually watch a film. It seemed to her that more and more projects were skipping the services of any script doctor, not just her, and it showed in the final output.

The truth was her savings were more than sufficient for her to retire on, but it didn't matter. She wanted to be working, damn it, which just made it worse when a friend suggested over lunch that she write an original screenplay instead of always fixing existing ones.

"Of course I can write from scratch," she said.

Her friend shrugged and swallowed a bite of kale. "So do it."

She spent a couple of weeks staring at her computer, or pacing around her office, or making another cup of coffee she didn't want and throwing it across the kitchen. The kitchen was recently redecorated in dark wood and black marble countertops, none of which even had the grace to show the stains. And still, nothing.

Her friend e-mailed her. No mention of writer's block, just advice on how to get around it (how? how could anyone have known? she always isolated herself when she was working).

"Morning pages," her friend wrote. "Grab a notebook and write in pencil for fifteen minutes without stopping. Do it as soon as you wake up; before coffee, before having a pee even. Never read them over. Just put the notebook away until the next morning. It's wonderfully liberating. I couldn't have done my last two novels without them."

She'd read the novels. It couldn't hurt to try.

The first day she woke up and realised there were no notebooks in the house. The second day, that she had no pencils. She wound up writing the day's pages with an old ballpoint she kept for writing cheques to repair people.

She went out and bought a pack of two dozen HB pencils, like the kind she used to use in math class back in high school. The day after that, a pencil sharpener.

After years of pounding out edits on tight deadlines, her handwriting was crap. She couldn't remember the last time she'd done more than a few words of a to-do list in longhand. It was just as well her friend's instructions included not reading over the morning pages, because she never would have been able to decipher what she had written.

An idea developed over breakfast one day, and by the afternoon she had a synopsis for a horror movie. A decidedly old-fashioned horror movie, to be sure, but given the recent backlash against "torture porn", she thought it could be shopped around reasonably enough.

The first act came to her easily, as did most of the second act. Then she got stuck again. In the middle of the day, just before she was going to break for lunch anyhow, the words just...stopped.

She went and made lunch. She told herself it was low blood sugar. But the afternoon wasn't any better.

The next day all she got done was her morning pages. She spent the rest of the day in her living room, staring out the sliding glass doors, a cold cup of coffee making a ring on her glass end-table.

Exhausted by doing nothing all day, she went to bed early.

She woke up in the middle of the night, startled to full wakefulness by an idea. The idea! She knew exactly how the rest of her script should go now. She turned on the lamp and grabbed the first thing she could write with that was at hand — the pencil and her morning pages notebook — and quickly jotted down the main points of what she was certain were the rest of the scenes she needed. She threw a robe on over her pajamas and went to her office to write.

By the time she felt comfortable taking a break, it was well past noon and she was dizzy from lack of food and caffeine. She went downstairs and hastily made herself brunch.

Back in her office, she flipped open her notebook to find the page where she had made her outline the night before. She smiled to see just how incredibly bad her first-thing-in-the-morning handwriting was. Most of it just looked like zigzags. Only one or two words were legible on any given page.

She noticed that two of the legible words made sense when they were strung together. It brought back memories of playing word games in university. Just for fun she flipped back to the last set of morning pages she'd written, from the day before, when she'd had the brief bout of writer's block.

    TO PAY