How Morning Pages Can Improve Your Writing

Morning Pages Writing - Lilartsy

So you’ve probably heard of morning pages.

I mean, you can’t mention books like On Writing, Bird By Bird, and The War Of Art without including The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. And in it lies one of the most helpful ways to unlock your creativity, and that’s the morning pages.

In a nutshell, this the practice of filling up three A4 pages (Cameron uses letter-sized, but let’s keep things simple) longhand before starting your day.

I’d started morning pages a few years back and I loved it. But that practice slowly evolved into normal journalling, something I thought would function the same.

Only after picking it up again did I realise how wrong I was. Morning pages wasn’t something I could simply replace with journalling, no matter how long my entries were. The entire mindset going into it was different.

So here I am easing my way back into my old habits, and I’m fortunate to be able to learn all about morning pages once more.

Of course, I didn’t gain superpowers, nor did I turn into a bestselling author, but that’s not to say that I didn’t gain something out of this.

Lessons from my second time around

I won’t go all woo-woo on you and say that morning pages will transform your life, but I’ve had a long hiatus in between both seasons, and that time away has certainly highlighted certain benefits from maintaining this habit.

1. People liked my work more. Yeah, this is a weird one, especially since I’ve maintained a daily writing habit throughout the entire time (that’s what you gotta do if you want to turn pro, right?).

Oddly enough, I received better response for my writing during my morning pages eras. My novel was traditionally published, and an essay I banged out on a whim made it into a book.

I’ve since written three more novels and a few short stories, yet those works have largely gone ignored. Only time will tell if morning pages really do have mystical powers, but hey, you can’t fault a writer for being superstitious, right?

After all, didn’t Charles Dickens always sleep facing north for the sake of his writing?

2. My writing output increased. While I typically get by with my 250-word routine daily, I’ve found that I have so much more to put on paper once I complete my morning pages. It’s almost like a warm up of some kind, one that takes away the fear of the blank page.

In fact, during my previous morning pages stint, I churned out two feature articles a day for a freelance gig, all while gathering material for 12–16 hours each day and writing at the back of bumpy vans or swaying boats.

The reason why I credit morning pages is because our inner editors are human after all, and they tend not to stick around after going through three full pages of drivel.

And it’s that editor’s absence that makes for a more conducive writing environment.

3. I’ve noticed more clarity in general. While journalling has taught me how to listen to myself more, I can’t really say that I’ve gotten much insight from writing. That’s until I started this practice once more.

My previous attempt didn’t help much in this regard, for reasons I’ll highlight in the coming points. But for now, let me just tell you just how much of a problem I have with googling answers for every question that pops into my head.

And to hit that point home, I figured I’d show you guys a quote I came across:

“Looking up information online, instead of trying to recall it ourselves, makes us shallower thinkers. Passively repeating information (e.g. by repeatedly looking it up on the Internet) does not create a solid, lasting memory trace.” —Dr. Maria Wimber

Well, now that I know this, I can at least work towards dealing with my desire to have all the answers. Maybe it’s okay to not know everything. Nobody needs to know about my ignorance, after all. Except maybe my morning pages.

My caveats for the practice

According to Julia Cameron, there’s no right or wrong way to approach morning pages. That doesn’t mean that you won’t come across a set of best practices for your own use though.

Here are some of the guidelines I use to get more mileage from my practice.

1. Burn all the evidence. Well, not literally. But instead of venting in a notebook like I once did, I now write on loose paper and send them off to the recycler once I go through an entire ream.

Yep, these pages will not be read ever again (maybe once or twice by the random recycler), so when I write my morning pages, I truly am writing for myself. And thatbrings us to the next point, which is…

2. Let it all out. I used to censor myself before this, because who knew what’d happen to my notebooks after I die? The problem with self-censorship though, is that I never truly explore what I really think about certain topics.

I wasn’t honest the first time I tried morning pages because I kept everything I wrote. But once I made the decision to dispose of my pages, I was free to explore every little dark thought in my mind. Oh, the weird things I find in those long-unexplored nooks.

I implore you to try crystallising your thoughts this way if you haven’t already. You’d be surprised at what actually goes on between your ears.

3. Don’t dictate. I forget where I’d heard this awesome quote, but this sentence highlights the appropriate mentality you should take going into your morning pages. “Write what you think, not think what to write.”

If there’s anything you take away from this post, make sure it’s that, because as long as you write what you think, you’ll never be at a loss for words. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘what the hell should I write’ or ‘my mind is blank right now’. You never truly stop thinking. But if you do, then maybe you’re a zen master and don’t know it.

Letting your mind take the wheel has its benefits too, no matter how silly or repetitive you think your thoughts are. Because as Cameron put it, “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action.”

Go forth and explore

There are tons of writing advice just floating around the internet, and while ‘don’t use adverbs’ and ‘read out aloud’ seem reasonable, they don’t hold a candle to the best writing tip that is ‘just write’.

You can’t get more universal than that.

Maybe that’s why writing morning pages is such a great practice for writers. Because we get to put perfection aside and do what’s actually important for us to grow as writers. And that’s to just write.


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89 thoughts on “How Morning Pages Can Improve Your Writing

  1. My best friend gave me “The Artist’s Way” years ago. I’ve practiced morning pages faithfully since. My friend told me it would be life changing. And in a way it was. I started my blog. I submitted an article to a publication and got a weekly parenting advice column, and then I got hired by an editor of trade magazines. I’m not saying that wouldn’t have happened without morning pages….but would it?

    • That’s exactly what I credit my successes to too! But then again, there’s no way of knowing. I haven’t really been nailing it in the publishing department lately, so if I ever come across more progress, then I’ll definitely know it’s the morning pages, lol. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      • I haven’t been nailing it either. But I blame the weary past year for that. Lack of motivation. But the morning pages start me on the right path each day.

  2. By far the best explanation of morning pages, but they’re still not for me. I’ve been kicking myself for falling out of my routine, but mine is to write a particular times of the day.

  3. Thank you for putting this back on my radar, Stuart. I did Morning Pages for years and have a file cabinet drawer filled with legal pads. BUT, now your suggestion to recycle them seems wise. I have a problem with getting rid of things, paper especially, and especially-especially when that paper contains my words of those from my sons. Maybe I will give MP another try and, this time, destroy the evidence.

  4. This is a really insightful post, I didn’t know there was a difference between morning pages and journaling. I have heard about Julia Cameron’s book but haven’t gone as far to read it. Your post has inspired me to finally pick it up and give morning pages a try, thank you

  5. Heya Stu! Loved this. So this post came into my inbox this morning, but I was in French class and boy the teacher will bite your face off in French if you held the phone for too long. Let’s bullet my points because my thought transitioning sorta sucks:
    – Oooh, loved the juicy post, ticks all the tags: writing, helpful, entertaining. I guess, after 20+ years (and I didn’t bother looking this up online, for the sake of not being a shallower thinker and all) and 9 (or is it 10?) years of blogging, you’re beginning to see some ril reward with your online writing.
    – I love your authenticity and transparency of heart, Stuart. (Let’s delay the thoughts on the actual post a little. My heart needs to speak.) You did this stuff for ages with little reward, and you’re still doing it without much monetary effect (or is there?). I think you’re a walking-talking example of a proper, not-in-it-for-the-money blogger. And you know what’s better? I get to use you as an example of a successful(ish) personal blog because that’s pretty rare. You know, relying on the Reader, not going the traditional SEO path, because ‘lessons learned from excersising’ doesn’t pack much keyword punch, do it now?
    – Alright, now for the post itself. Love it. Personally agree with #2 (the first #2) because when I was doing NaNoWriMo (question: nano-ree-mo or nano-rhy-mo?), I found that starting ahead on as little as 200 words of my writing in the morning helps me write more during the rest of the day … it’s the first thing that I got into my head when I woke up, and it’s going to stay there for 16 hours.
    – I agree with your 3 tips. They’re so common and yet so ignored! You deliver them, though, in such a powerful manner that it’s hard to unsee their potency. I’m Shakespeare for writing that.
    – And you know what’s sweeter? You actually read my whole 300-word comments and RESPOND to them. I’m trying to untie this from sounding like a sappy love letter, but whatever. You don’t know what the world has got in store for you, but you know there’s not much of a chance you’ll travel halfway across the world to date a Malaysian, right?
    – I was watching Ali Abdaal yesterday and he was talking about how putting your work out there online is guaranteed to help you make internet friends… and gosh, could I relate. You’re not one of my many online buddies, but can I call you one? (Does puppy eyes). It all started when I was fooling around and created The Kate Kane Blog, wherein I took the persona of a legendary writer names Kate Kane. A powerful start of 50 followers, but I soon changed it to Redoubtable Writing.
    – You know what your posts teach me? That time flies by. Did you increase your posting cadence, or is my life going by faster? Weeks seem like days now!
    – And you know what’s weird? I get insane (2-4 per comment, as insane as you can get) liked on my comment here, believe it or not. IKR? Stupidish.
    Phew, thanks. I loved the post, but I think I would’ve left your blog ages ago if you didn’t respond to comments. Honestly, like, it’s good to comment with others in the midst of COVID.
    Best of luck.
    P.S. WHOA, 533 words? That’s an insane word count for a comment, even if I do say so myself. Au revoir!

    • Always great to have you here, and to read your well thought-out comments! Let’s start this week’s conversation:

      That word count is crazy. If this keeps up, you’ll be topping my actual blog post word count within weeks, which could be a good thing lol.

      Am definitely certain it’s rhy-mo because ‘writing’, amirite?

      Time is definitely going by faster. I feel it too. Still the same weekly schedule. Maybe I should increase that. If only I had the time.

      Yeah, you should definitely continue maintaining your blog. I enjoyed your posts before you went on hiatus. Or maybe you have a few projects to juggle.

      Of course we can be online buddies. I think we’ve been chatting for quite a bit now.

      To be honest, I could very well benefit from a proper SEO plan. I’m just too lazy at the moment hahaha. And yeah, while my working life has improved, I’m still not earning much from my personal writing, and that’s okay.

      Also, I believe there’s magic to getting your life goals out of the way first thing in the morning. That way, your mind feels freer to pursue what it wants (hence, the increased word output after getting down with writing).

      Anyway, thanks so much for your constant longform comments and keeping me company that way!

      • And let’s see who’s upped their comment game. My responses, in order:
        – Great to be haved here, Stuart Danker.
        – Lolol you can joke about that, but until WordPress malfunctions from my comment word count, I’m writing those long-ass comments means I’m writing them.
        – Hmmm … I always thought it was ‘reemo’. But actually, if you break it down into National Novel WRIting Month, I guess yours makes more sense. Rhy-mo it is.
        – Nah, don’t increase that. Much like purposefully making a product expensive to make it feel luxurious (c’mon, who’d buy iPhones if they were cheaper than second-hand black-and-white-screen Samsungs?), I think your posting cadence is perfect to make readers feel the quality of your writing. If the effort put in it seems to be the effort put in a double-weekly post, I think people would take your writing for granted. Did that make sense? For now, just keep on that.
        – Ya, I have got ideas. I follow the six-month rule with my creative projects, and it’s worked: if I lose fuel with something big (40k words in my latest book, 30 blog posts and 130 followers, etc.) I get back to it six months later. The book before that, which I’d done in NaNo 2020, was 25k words. I waited six months and then got back to book-writing, and it worked better than waiting 3 months or 2. It’s an awful, torturous amount of waiting, but they say you gotta have patience amirite? I hope I’m gonna get back to blogging by the end of this year. It was so fun and I can’t wait!
        – Lolol ‘quite a bit’. 246 days ago, I left what was probably my first comment, still recorded under ‘Kate Kane’, on How to Get an Editor’s Attention. Let’s mark the year with a 1,000-word comment, shall we? (Lol. Don’t spam my next comments, I promise I’m not gonna upstage your blog posts. Or so I hope.)
        – And I don’t think so, not really. You could argue that you’re the one with blogging experience, but I think you’re doing just fine here. However, I think working on increasing social shares, email newsletter subscribers, and followers could do you better. Not that much can be done better on your blog.
        – Ya. Agreee.
        – Lol this could be a meme: When a writer respond to your comment:
        “Thank you for your constant longform comments.”
        You’re welcome. Bonne nuit! (Who sleeps at 6:45, IDK. But lol. Ok btw that meant ‘good night’.)
        Sincerely,
        (I never really got that. Sincerely WHAT? That’s an adverb. Just leaving it hanging there don’t look right to a writer now do it?)
        Yours truly,
        (Oh, really. What’s yours truly. I’m not yours, certainly. Another stupid one.)
        Thx.
        (Now what’s better. Thank you. Gratitude.)
        P.S. I tried signing up to your newsletter again with the same email, it turned green and accepted me and all, but I probably wasn’t officially in because I didn’t get a confirmation email. Maybe that’s something you should fix, like it could say, ‘you’ve already entered that email address idiot’ or something. Lol. Thought of giving you customer feedback.
        P.S.S. 519 words. Lol.

  6. Interestingly, I got this book last week and started my morning pages this week. It’s been interesting so far and getting to explore what I think (and my societal constructed thoughts and boundaries). Hoping I will keep going for a long time.

    • Aw yeah! And while I enjoy discovering my thoughts through morning pages, I feel like the actual act of putting words on paper is enough for me. The joy really is in the work. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

    • To be honest, I don’t do the other things in her book such as the Artist’s Date, but morning pages are on a whole new level. I guess that’s why that particular practice caught on with the rest of the world. Thanks for stopping by, Hetty! Always great to have you here.

      • The Artist’s Date is a good idea, though my practice of it is abysmal. The idea is to fill up your inner “well” with material. I try to do little activities like art or reading poetry or something out of my usual routine.

  7. I had never heard of this before but I like it! I struggle to find time to write, especially when I don’t have any idea what to write about, and this would be a great, low commitment way to get the wheels turning.

    • Low commitment is the key if you haven’t been in practice for a while.

      It often turns into momentum, which is something that we’d struggle to do if we set the barrier of entry too high. Wishing you a great time with this practice!

  8. The “don’t dictate” idea is key. Not an easy one to remember, but one that freewriting does a good job of encouraging.

    This is timely for me. I’be been thinking of taking up this practice again to see what happens. And I’ve been journaling after years of not journaling. I’m trying to re-learn that writing is about discovery and experimentation. I can outline all day long. Oh, how I love an outline! And post-its! And storyboarding! But none of that is writing :-)

    • Oh yeah. At the end of the day, we have to focus on the actual important tasks, 80-20 rule and whatnot.

      But I say this, and I’ve recently tried outlining after pantsing for some time, and I do get how you can be totally sucked into storyboarding and outlining. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Morning pages is a completely new concept to me, as I’ve never been a morning person myself and have been much more akin to a night owl. But there’s just something about writing longhand that cannot be compared to typing away on a Google doc or Word document. It’s definitely something that I feel I should try and I’m really happy to have seen this post. As always, thank you Stuart.

  10. An insightful post! Never heard of morning pages before, although I do keep a journal. I call my diary Anne Frank 😅 But to me, it sounds PAINFUL that you’d write all that only to dispose them all off 😕

  11. Thanks again as always. Great insights on morning pages. I’ve tried them before but I’m more into writing with intent and purpose — most of the time anyway! Haha…just wanna make sure I don’t end up doing more writing exercises and practices, and not enough actual writing for specific purposes.

    • Oh yeah, your comment reminds me of a YouTube video I stumbled across, where the speaker tells salesmen not to waste their time on updating their appointment books or planning their meetings with prospects, but to actually MEET the prospects.

      Though I wouldn’t call morning pages an exercise per se, more like a warm up.

      Anyway, great to have your thoughts as always, Kelvin. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Hi Stuart, this is helpful. Thanks much! It sounds a little like a meditation exercise except that with meditation we let our thoughts pass and we do not register our thoughts. ‘Write what you think and not think what to write’ is a good quote. I figure you can do your morning pages any time of the day but you have to make it a ritual. I just picked up one of my exercise books and I flipped through the pages and saw the name Julia Cameron. I must have come across the name and jotted it down quite a while ago. How uncanny.

    • It really is cool that you have an exercise book with Julia Cameron’s name in it. And yeah, while Cameron herself says it can be done any time of the day, I find it most effective to do it in the morning, so that I approach my day with an empty (relatively) mind. Thanks so much for stopping by. Always great to see you here!

      • Yes, I do agree. it is good to write your thoughts in the morning when your mind is clear or if there are still remnants of any dreams that will be cool to write them down too. Thoughts come to you and you wonder if they are yours. I think I do monologues all the time and it is good to write them down when nobody should read them. Need to try to work that into my morning routine. Our dog is usually waiting for her walk. Will have to try to wake up earlier. Great post. Thanks Stuart

      • “Thoughts come to you and you wonder if they are yours.”

        Omg I get the exact same thought when I meditate. I’ll be observing the thoughts in my head, wondering just where they’re coming from.

  13. Thanks for this post! I did the morning pages as part of going through The Artist’s Way last year, and this just reminded me to attempt it again. Will link to this post as part of my next Resources Roundup!

    • Isn’t it cool that we sometimes do things without knowing what they are? Commonplace books are also another thing I’ve been doing before knowing the name. Thanks so much for stopping by, btw!

  14. Thank you for reminding me about the idea of Morning Pages and the ideas in The Artist’s Way. I have the latter on my Kindle and I think I’ll get back to reading it and maybe try Morning Pages again.

    • Oh yeah, it works to think of it as stream of consciousness, and as ‘thoughtless’ as possible. That’s how it differs from normal journalling. Though Cameron would explain it better than I can in her book (or in her interviews on YouTube).

      Do give it a whirl and share your experience!

  15. Never heard about the morning pages beforer, but is curious that it’s something i also do, I used to think about it as something more related to “automatic writing”, but the effect was pretty similar as what you (brilliantly) describe. The case is that if a professional runner needs a warm up before the race, who am I not to write a few pages before adding words to my WIP? Thanks again for your post Stuart! This time it made me think i am a bit on the right track

    • Oh yeah, people like Steinbeck and Abraham Lincoln had written letters to people (not to send, just to warm up) before starting on their main projects, so you’re definitely on the right path. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  16. As I was saying, this is such an interesting idea!
    Usually, whenever I do this kind of venting automatic writing practice of writing absolutely everything that is plaguing my mind, yeah I would get some peace of mind from my thoughts, but I would end up so drained I couldn’t think of one thing afterwards!
    So to hear about doing this same thing, not with the purpose of draining yourself but to have things that need to get out an outlet and allowing the rest to flow as they should, it’s nothing short of amazing.
    So hey! Who knows? I think I have a new habit to get into first thing in the morning…

    • Oh yeah! Definitely do give this a go. And sometimes, getting to that drained state ain’t bad either—much better than having your thoughts swirling around in your head and clogging your mind. Anyway, thanks so much for dropping these comments!

  17. I used to write in my truck before starting my shift and during lunch breaks. I haven’t done those in a while due to various reasons (biggest being risk of heat stroke), but I *guess* I could get up earlier to try this technique.

    • Time is a legit issue for this, because three A4 pages take me about 30 minutes, even when I resort to scrawling instead of writing. Hoping you find the time to do it. And thanks for stopping by as always!

    • It is indeed. The quickest I can get through three A4 pages is thirty minutes, and that’s by turbo-scrawling too. It really does limber up the writing muscles and turns down the volume on the inner critic for the rest of the day though.

      • I was always too lazy to find out what the paper size designations mean so I finally had to look up A4. That’s the size of regular copy paper! Julia Cameron expects us to write three of those every morning? Geez. I guess she doesn’t live with nosy people who would never allow you to engage in that activity alone.

  18. Fantastic post! Used to do morning pages a few years ago, and also switched to journaling. “Write what you think, not think what to write” really does describe the difference between the two. Ready to give those morning pages another try. Thanks for this great post…love your writing style.

    • Great to know someone’s in the exact same boat as me and can totally relate. I don’t know why I moved from one to the other, but now, after having done both in a day, I actually feel freer to blast out the shitty first drafts for work. Wishing you all the best, and thanks so much for the kind words!

  19. I found myself nodding as I read that quotation about remembering things instead of looking them up online! It’s a very good point, and gives me an idea for a blog post of my own.

    I have a small toddler right now, so finding time to write *at all* is a challenge to say the least, but I would like to get back into it once I manage to work out my schedule a little better. I don’t think I ever did morning pages – do you advocate writing them by hand, or is a tech alternative equally suitable? I am attracted to the convenience of typing, but there’s a lot to be said for the physical feeling of paper and pen.
    A further question, and forgive me if you’ve addressed it elsewhere: how did you end up getting paid work as a writer? Did you actively search for positions, or fall across them in ‘a friend of a friend’ kind of way? I’m interested in learning about your origin story, as it were!

    • I would definitely go with pen and paper, since that’s what Cameron specifically advises us to anyway. If that’s too much (and three A4 pages really can be a bit much), you can start off with A5 to warm up with the medium, and see if it can fit your busy schedule. But definitely pen and paper.

      My first few writing gigs began in 2012-ish as full-time jobs. This was a career change from hairdressing and accounting.

      Then one thing led to another, and I’ve since been mainly getting jobs through word of mouth.

      Haven’t been writing for money in a while though, since I’m focusing more on novels. Also, I have a contract as a marketing mentor now, so I kinda pivoted again without realising, lol.

      Thanks for the great questions! I’ll be happy to answer anything else you wish to know.

    • As long as you want, really. Think of it like meditating. It’s your own personal practice. Of course, also like meditating, the effects become more prominent the more you do it.

      I myself try not to expect anything out of this practice, but I must say, since restarting, I’ve uncovered quite a few thoughts I never knew were swimming around in my head.

      Thanks for this wonderful question!

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    • If you give me the option though, I’d much rather do my writing at night. But since that’s the best time to write uninterrupted, I’ve slowly moved my creative time to the mornings, lol. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • The magic of 3 pages is that since there is so much space to fill, you’ll tap into a deeper part of your brain to get the thoughts out. But definitely try it out.

      Thanks for stopping by, btw!

  21. Great Post Stuart.. I GTS I do morning pages but not a big fan.. now brain dumping which is about the same thing works best for me.. maybe it’s cuz swear more.. lol. I mean listing the name one is lovely and flowery and the other well.. taking a dump. We could have fun with a collab Stuart.. lol 🤣

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