Morning Pages: Why Aren’t you Doing Them Already?
One of the more useful secrets of successful creatives
If you’re a creative person — or an aspiring creative person — chances are you’ve at least heard of something called “Morning Pages.” If not, you’ve been poorly served by your creativity mentors and any Medium writers you happen to follow.
There. I said it. Moving on.
The idea behind Morning Pages is most often attributed to the writer and creativity coach/guru Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way. She also teaches a lot of courses and seminars that focus largely on this and other creativity rituals.
According to Cameron:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
That’s it. Three handwritten pages. Whatever comes to your mind. Every morning.
Simple, right? Yet, for those who are uninitiated, it probably seems daunting or perhaps even a little pointless. If you’re like me, it likely raises some obvious questions.
Do my Morning Pages have to be handwritten?
Yes. This is a must.
Before I started doing Morning Pages — a little over a year ago — I felt like it had been years since I’d written anything by hand. Except for the random notes I scribbled down during work meetings to make it look it like I was paying attention.
Now, this Julia Whatshername wanted me to write — by hand — three whole pages of thoughts every single day? Poppycock!
I actually used the word “poppycock”
(Author’s Note: No I didn’t. But I should have.)
I was sure that no one seriously did this. To prove it, I googling, looked at some message boards, and talked to the friends who recommended it. My main question was whether I could write my Morning Pages on a computer like a civilized person.
Literally every person I asked and every source I consulted said no. Writing the pages out by hand is the entire point.
Here’s why: When we write by hand, we slow ourselves down. There is a lag between the moment thoughts appear in our minds and when they appear on the page. In a sense, when we’re writing by hand, we’re writing to keep up with our minds.
When we’re typing — at least for those of us that type fast — it’s the opposite. If you’ve ever tried to type in a stream of consciousness, you probably ended up taxing your mind to produce enough thoughts to fill up space. That defeats the purpose of the whole Morning Pages exercise.
Meditation: Not Just for Hippies
Take it from someone who’s been meditating for three whole weeks
Does it have to be three whole pages?
It doesn’t have to be anything. This is a voluntary activity.
But, in my experience, three pages are the right length. If you do much less, you lose the benefits of the exercise (more on those benefits below). If start out thinking you need to do more, the task can seem too big to add to your everyday routine.
So, in my mind, I suppose the rule is: Shoot for three pages. Do more if you feel like it. But don’t do less.
What am I supposed to write?
There is no answer to this question. No “right” answer anyway.
I know. You hate it when people say that. But, in this case, it’s true.
Once again, the idea is to write in a stream of consciousness. Whatever brilliant, stupid, pointless, hilarious, or disturbing thoughts come into your head, write them down.
Thinking about your schedule for the day? Write it out, and include any thoughts that arise about entries on your calendar. Are you looking forward to that meeting you just wrote down? Why? Why not?
Thinking about your writing projects or business ideas? Just (metaphorically) puke them out on the page. No editing. No judgment.
Mad at someone or something? Write it all down. An angry rant written out in longhand is actually an ideal catharsis.
Are you grasping the pattern? Anything and everything can be fodder for your Morning Pages.
Personally, I usually end up focusing on the work I hope to accomplish that day. If I’m working on my own writing projects, I’ll sometimes just start writing out a rough draft. If I have work to do for clients, I write out a task list — and any accompanying thoughts — and start organizing the work on paper.
But, my Morning Pages can also veer into personal territory. I’ll lament the time I wasted the day before. Or, I’ll chastise myself for yelling at my kids too much. That kind of thing.
I’m never at a loss for what to write down. No one should be. Even if your mind is literally blank (not an occurrence that happens in reality, but whatever), write about not being able to come with anything to write about.
The pace will fill up quickly.
Why do I need to do this?
Perhaps I’ve buried the lede here a little bit. Oh well.
Now that we’ve gone through the basic logistics of Morning Pages, let’s talk about the benefits.
The purpose of this exercise is to clear your mental decks. As Ms. Cameron herself put it:
All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.
This isn’t just helpful if you want to be a writer, artist, or musician. It’s helpful for anyone who has to use their brain during the day. If your job requires you to think critically or creatively at any point, purging the hard drive and hitting the reset button at the beginning of the day will help you do it better.
If you ARE a writer — or an aspiring one like me — Morning Pages can help cure writer’s block or boost your confidence. Anyone who wants to be creative is told that they need to silence their inner critic and censor. That’s tough to do, particularly when you’re in the middle of a project.
The good thing about Morning Pages is that no one is ever going to read them. Heck, you’ll probably never read them either, unless you come up with something useful during that time. That’s definitely happened from time to time.
But, usually, you’re just sitting. Writing. No pressure to make it presentable, interesting, or grammatically correct. If you can do that for three pages in the morning, that feeling of freedom will extend into your day.
This is the time where you can practice putting your internal creativity hecklers in a corner and ignoring them for a few minutes. If you get to where you can do that for a short stretch every morning, you’ll find it gets easier to keep doing it for longer periods when you’re actually trying to work.
For me, Morning Pages are an essential part of my routine, along with ten to fifteen minutes of meditation. If I skip it because I feel like I don’t have time or I’m not in the mood, I feel a drag on my brain throughout the day.
I’m not the kind of person who can be productive with a dragging brain. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you aren’t either.