To know me is to know that I am a lover of all things The Artist’s Way, but that adoration holds its deepest foundation in the miracle of morning pages. If you are unfamiliar with what this simple magic is, then I am honestly shocked that you are reading this article! But seriously, the morning pages is a routine Julia Cameron describes in her twelve week creative recovery program that seem silly, inconsequential, and something that one could easily skip over to no consequence. Morning pages is the act of free writing three pages every single morning before you do anything else. That’s it. It’s like a brain dump. It’s a practice many artists, writers, and creatives of all types (like me!) swear by. For me, morning pages changed my life.
However, though Julia Cameron swears that they can not be done incorrectly, there are a number of things that I did on my journey that I have no intention of doing again and I’d like to save you from.
1. I Bought the WRONG Notebook
I promise you, this is a thing. While Julia makes no rules about what kind of paper or notebook you need to use for your morning pages, the first time I did them I made a very painful mistake. As a former high school teacher, I had a ton of college-ruled one subject notebooks all over my house that I had purchased for future students that were no longer a possibility. Upon reading The Artist’s Way and learning of the morning pages I rejoiced over finding a brand new purpose for these rejects! I’ll never forgot the yellow covered demon I selected as my first morning pages notebook. I thought, Oh yellow will be so nice and comforting like the morning sun! I shall be so inspired by this beauty! Guys. GUYS! It was 8.5" by 11" COLLEGE-RULED paper! It took me about an hour to complete the morning brain dumps! Morning pages were honing in on all of my morning activities. By the end of the notebook I had started a third page tradition of writing about how much my hand hurt and how hungry I was. It was not good.
SOLUTION: I recommend a bargain notebook of journal size with WIDE RULED or — if you are insane — no lines at all.
2. I Cared Way Too Much About How I Felt
When you read about the results other people have had with the morning pages, it is hard not to carry those expectations with you into the endeavor. On more than one occasion I walked away from my morning pages feeling like a failed creative. I started focusing too much on what I was feeling. I would shut my notebook and sit there expecting the skies to open, the rays of the sun to beam down upon me and every bird to start singing my praises, but none of that happened. When I closed my notebook it was just me sitting in front of a closed notebook letting life pass me by in a state of delusional disappointment. That’s when I started to truly embrace the description of morning pages as a “brain dump” and that helped a lot.
SOLUTION: Keep your expectations low: if you succeeded in pouring stuff out of your head onto the page, then you’ve done it and the reward will find you when you least expect it!
3. I Didn’t Do the Pages in the Morning
They are called morning pages, but you know life… it. does. not. care. It’s pretty well accepted in The Artist’s Way community that if you can’t get your pages done in the morning, getting them done at any time of the day is better than skipping the day all together — and I couldn’t agree more. However, I took this news to heart and thought, It doesn’t matter! I will just do them… whenever! Again, not the worst thing in the world, but when I did it for awhile, I did start to feel the difference. My morning pages changed from a brain dump into a documentation of the events of the day, like a diary or something. What I found is that I was no longer uncovering deep truths about myself because they had once again (just like life before the morning pages) gotten buried under life.
SOLUTION: Keep your notebook next to your bed with a pen attached, if your back can handle it (mine really hates this) start writing them while you are still in bed (you know… like when you are usually scrolling through your phone!).
4. I Stopped Doing Them Consistently
We’ve already discussed how annoyingly inconsiderate life can be when it comes to morning pages. You may have the best of intentions, but the day will come when you simply can not get them done. I had that day. And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. This is not a good thing for me. This is the type of thing that makes me very lax. Then the next time I felt a little extra sleepy at morning pages time, I went ahead and made the self-care decision to hit the snooze button. And then I did it again and again, and then time kept passing and less days had morning pages than had them, and after awhile less days were productive in general. Consistency matters. The morning pages help, and when you stop doing the morning pages, the help stops too.
SOLUTION: Reward yourself for every day you do pages — make it physical — I like putting stickers or check marks on the cover of my morning pages notebook.
5. I Stare Off Into the Distance
Notice this one isn’t in the past tense. Maybe it’s because my leading art form is writing, but whenever I start writing, my mind wanders off onto glorious adventures of fictional possibilities that may or may not be worth exploring in print. I can’t help it. When I am tired, this happens even more frequently. There are two issues with this happening in my morning pages. First of all, it just adds to the time I am doing morning pages and delays the actual beginning of my day. The second issue is that morning pages are meant to capture every wandering stream of thought — if I stare off into the distance and allow those thoughts to get away, I may be missing out on some great benefit to myself in the long run.
SOLUTION: I haven’t figured one out. If you have one, please let me know!!
Those are the big five for me, have you messed up your morning pages in some other way? What should I be on the lookout for? I am knee deep in a reexamination of the The Artist’s Way thanks to Sam Kimberle’s Artist’s Way group and I am committed to putting my best foot forward in all ways.
If you are interested in hearing me gush about my love of The Morning Pages, please feel free to tune into episode 2 of my podcast, Stop Writing Alone.