Several months back I wrote a blog post about using Julia Cameron’s concept of the Morning Pages (from her book The Artist’s Way) as a form of regular journaling. As I noted then, I began to develop this practice not long after finishing my dissertation as a means of self-care in that confusing landscape post-dissertation life. I’ve since received a number of inquiries about the Morning Pages. Do I still use them? How do they work? How are they helpful?
Although I have offered of basic thoughts to people one-on-one, I don’t feel like I’ve fully explained how I still find them useful. This is partly because they have become so routine that I hardly think about them anymore. The Morning Pages are part of a comforting morning ritual that happens before my child gets up. I write them (almost) every day, always with a cup of coffee by my side, and usually on my couch with a blanket draped over me (it’s still chilly here in the PNW!).
Sometimes when people ask I feel like I can only explain their value to me as much as I can explain why I always drink that coffee from the same mug. That’s the other reason I trip over explanations: the Morning Pages are personal. Once you start to do them regularly they can feel like an old friend – and like an old friend, for each person, they’ll provide a different kind of value. Still, there are common features to the Morning Pages that make them broadly useful – as I remembered once I went back to Cameron’s book as I was preparing to write this post. What follows are some of the main reasons they are one of my go-to morning rituals.
They are straightforward and Can be Done Anywhere
The Morning Pages are a practice of journaling that Julia Cameron came up with in her book The Artist’s Way as a tool for “stuck” or “blocked” creatives. Put simply, they are just 3 pages on paper of free flow writing. One does this first thing every morning, day-in and day-out, whether ideas come to the brain or not. Three pages on paper. Everyday. Open up up the journal, write the date with your favorite, jot stuff down, and the next day repeat. There are no prompts, no rules, no regulations. No timer, no readers, no goals. Because they are supposed to be on paper, they can be done anywhere (like cozied up with a cup of coffee on the couch).
They not Meant to be Outcomes Based…Though They Might Produce Outcomes
Why paper and not computers? Aside from the ease (and from the fact that our eyes need breaks from the screen) longform writing is important because it discourages self-editing. The Morning Pages are not supposed to be a first draft of something – they are a free flow of thoughts that pop in your head as you commit your pen to paper. They don’t need to make sense.
Over and over in her book, Cameron emphasizes that it’s more important blurt out thoughts than to try to craft good sentences. She encourages those new to the Morning Pages to write them and then put them away and never look at them again. They can be a repetition of the same sentence over again if you are feeling particularly bitter that morning and need a space to grouse about it. Or a spastic grumble if you are so inclined (on some days, I am so inclined).
Thus, instead of thinking of it as a place to start ideas, it’s helpful think of it as a place where you can put those ideas/worries/anxieties/etc. that get in the way. “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning pages stands between you and your creativity…get it on the page,” writes Cameron. That’s where your gremlins, or what Cameron calls “your Censors” can go – out of your brain and on the paper so that you can start on your work without having to worry about them.
Then again, the pages might be a place where new ideas form. That’s part of the reason why she encourages three pages, not one. That’s also why she insists on writing every day. You might need to spend half of that space rattling about something you’re angry about in order to be able to pivot to think about whatever it is that has been sitting in waiting for you to develop. You might spend four days feeling down about yourself, then have a fifth day where ideas burst forth.
They are for You and You Alone
There’s no reason to edit because the morning pages are private – just for you and you alone. In fact, Cameron would go as far as to say that they are for the present you, not the future you, so just don’t worry about anyone (including yourself) reading them. I’ve written about the value of a private space for journaling before (here and here) but I’ll reiterate that when there seems to be little space for privacy in our society, something like a journal can be very comforting. As a private space, notes Cameron, the Morning Pages can become a “map of our interior” to help us understand ourselves. Even a day of “ugh, I have nothing to write today” can reveal, since as Cameron notes, boredom is mode of dissatisfaction that tells us something is amiss. That’s why Morning Pages works best when it’s a regular daily habit, for good or for boredom or for ill.
There’s No Wrong Way
The rules are simple: 3 pages everyday. After that, there is no wrong way to do it, and if you can’t do three, you can try 2 pages or 1 page and see where you go after that. Sometimes I miss several days. Sometimes, when I’m busy I just jot down a page about my stress during my lunch break. Then after a while, I start to miss my regular routine and then get back into my morning ritual. Cameron has a great joke in The Artist’s Way that sums up how I use the Morning Pages now:
“Why do we write morning pages? To get to the other side.”
I can’t think of any better way to explain it. The Morning Pages is a practice, a ritual, a process, and a bridge to whatever comes next.