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.