Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Self-Help: Writing to Diet

It turns out that I'm getting pretty good at skimming entire self-help books in under two hours while never leaving the book store. The Writing Diet took me just under 90 minutes. Occasionally I feel bad about this. But right now I believe everyone deserves self-help.

Self-HelpWhich reminds me of Lorri Moore's hilarious collection of short stories titled Self-Help. Her story "How to Be an Other Woman" was fabulous. So was "How to Become a Writer" to a lesser extent. "How to Be an Other Woman" always makes me want to title all my lists clients to see regardless of what I'm listing. It's this fabulous little story that I tried to get my father to read it when I had a copy checked out of the library. Unfortunately I told him the title of the story and he was quickly turned off. No amount of swearing it was literary fiction not romance would get him to read it. But everyone should read it as Lorri Moore is one of the greatest short storyist of the latter 20th century.

The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-SizeAnyway! I saw Aquarius' post on The Writing Diet and decided to check it out. As requested, I'm posting my findings.

Cameron has adapted technique she introduced in The Artist's Way for unblocking that which blocks your creativity, known as "morning pages," and formatted it into 200+ pages specifically directed at food and why we eat. She did this because she noticed huge life changed happening in students of her 12 week class/program. Most notably, they got happier and lost weight.

At first I scoffed. I've tried writing in the morning and I'm shit for it. There's nothing in my head when I first roll out of bed and no one's cajoling slogans of how having nothing in my head makes it the perfect time to write free of impurities helps that. Free of impurities might be great for tap water, but not for me. When I wake up I have no words. People ask me things before my coffee and shower and I do not give them words back. I grunt. At most. Usually I just blink then shuffle away. But Cameron isn't asking for important words. She's not even asking for me to write them before my coffee and shower. She's happy to wait for me to wake up a little and maybe even steal words from the world around me to refill my brain. But what she wants is roughly twenty minutes of stream of consciousness writing. A time where you put your pen to paper and just go without thinking too hard on what you're writing. You don't write fancy fiction, you don't write anything important. You just jot down what comes to mind. You don't worry about spelling or grammar or leaving a sentence hanging. You just keep going.

Even though her students do this morning writing without ever sharing it with anyone else, they often mention to her that they have seen patterns emerge, or that they recognize thoughts that were floating around in their minds as actually being more important than they previously gave them credit for. Basically (though Cameron doesn't say this) it makes her students more self-aware. And through self-awareness they change their lives. They stop doing things that are destructive because they finally realize the cause and effect.

It doesn't take long before you realize that her methods would work well for any kind of addiction be it food or drinking or smoking or others. She also notes how many people fixed relationship problems they didn't even think they had before they started writing morning pages.

Cameron pushes further into the world of why you overeat or why you eat the bad things you do by asking you to keep a journal. It's a not a calorie counting journal or a book of judgement and punishment. Instead it's a place where you have to log every time you think of eating and what you are feeling at that moment whether or not you actually end up eating something. Again, it's more self-realization and self-awareness. You are diagnosing your own illness by identifying what triggers your eating.

In sum, it appears to be cheap, time efficient therapy if you're willing to be honest with yourself. Thankfully the only person you have to be honest with is yourself, although she covers group/buddy scenarios later in the book. She also covers big picture life stuff in the second half of the book and the whole thing is plastered with examples from students she has known.

Julia Cameron is an interesting self-help writer because she's definitely someone that society would normally deem as needing help of her own. I could be wrong, but from how she writes about herself it would appear that she's gone through bouts of serious addiction, depression and mental instability. She would be out of a job if she was your local pastor/politician, but as your new age get-in-touch-with-your-self guru she's getting book contracts. And more than that, we're listening. We are a strange society of double standards.

Highly Recommended