Morning pages

I began the practice of writing “morning pages” three years ago this week and wanted to celebrate this milestone by sharing my experiences with you.  If you already keep a journal or do morning pages, bravo!  If not, maybe this post can help motivate you to start.

I began writing morning pages every day upon reading the first chapter of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.  Julia describes in very loving and beautiful language why writing every day is the foundation for creative recovery and growth.  She calls this practice “morning pages,” because she recommends writing three pages (1 page = 1 side of a page; in other words, not 6 pages) in longhand (avoid typing! writing by hand slows you down to think and feel) every morning, first thing in the morning, when your mind is free from clutter and you’ve processed the previous day during the night in dreams.

Morning pages are a major tool in her 12-week creative recovery process, and they become a positive habit very quickly.  While I have gone through the expected very short periods of missing a few days here and there, I can honestly say that I write every morning.  Morning pages free up the clutter in my mind, relieving anxiety and revealing answers to problems. I’m able to honestly express joy and gratitude and also honestly release any bitterness and anger, which helps me get perspective and manage any issues with grace.  Writing every day provides great clarity on how I feel – emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, creatively, and in my relationships – which in turn helps me have a clear point of view at work, in my art, and in my life in general.  And, best of all, it helps me slow down enough to understand others’ points of view.  By slowing down to write and take in myself and my surroundings, I become more efficient and effective during the day.

On the rare occasion when I don’t write, I tend to feel “off” or “in a funk” that day.  The benefits are so powerful that I wanted to provide 7 practical tips to help you get started:

  1. Find the right journal and pen.  Having tools you love for this is important, especially in the beginning when it is more of a chore than something you can’t wait to do.  I love my notebooks.  They are 6″ x 8″, spiral-bound, lined, and made in Spain by Miguelrius.  I love them so much that when The Container Store stopped carrying them last year, I went to the Miguelrius website and bought 15 journals just in case they discontinue them.  (For all my female readers, the Jordi Labanda designs are so chic.)  I use Sharpie fine point pens in blue because I don’t have to force the ink onto the page.  And blue is soothing to me.  Choose what works well for you.
  2. Start by writing at least one page, but build up to three quickly.  Julia is spot-on with this advice. I have found that the first 1 or 1 1/2 pages are pretty easy.  The next half is harder, but it’s where real clarity and action come into play.  When I miss a day, I have a perfectionist’s tendency to write a fourth page the following day to make up lost ground – I have found that this is not helpful and can lead to some obsessing.  Three pages really seems to be the ideal amount.  It usually takes about 30-35 minutes for me to write three pages.
  3. Don’t think about what you will write.  Allow the words to just flow and write in stream of consciousness mode.  Don’t pick a topic.  It’s not “real” writing, so don’t worry about spelling, neatness, and grammar either.  Your writings will sound crazy, random, and all over the place.  Recently, I spent 1/3 page writing about how my dog wouldn’t stop licking my toes under the table.  Yep, random.  But then I remembered I was nearly out of her monthly medicine and that I needed to go pick it up at the vet.
  4. Try to write in the morning.  I get asked all the time “why morning pages?”, that it makes more sense to write “evening pages”, so you can review your day and put it to bed.  That’s the answer:  you’re reviewing a day that has already happened and that you can’t go back and change.  With morning pages, you’re prioritizing the day ahead of you.  You could make a conscious effort at night to write about the next day, but that’s harder and defeats the purpose of writing in stream of consciousness and contradicts what I said in #3.  But, I also believe that it’s better to write any time of day than not at all. On Sundays, I like to write after church because I like to process the message and feelings I had while there; but the other six days of the week, I prefer doing so before the day gets started, with coffee in hand, at my kitchen table.
  5. Try to be flexible with location.  This one is really tough for me.  I’ve become a creature of habit and developed a favorite place to write:  at the kitchen table with my cup of coffee.  This is a problem when I have family or guests stay with me.  I have yet to become thoroughly comfortable writing anywhere else in my house except at the kitchen table with my coffee.  Very strange. I find that I don’t go as deep as I normally do.  Ironically, I don’t have this issue when I’m traveling – I find it quite easy to write in a hotel room, on the balcony of a condo, at a local Starbucks, at my parents’ home, etc.  For you newbies at this, try to change up where you write at home from time-to-time so you don’t fall into this trap like I have.
  6. Don’t censor yourself.  This is probably the hardest thing to overcome.  Write about how you feel about things, not how others think you should feel or how you think others want you to feel.  My decision to pursue painting came from uncensoring myself three years ago through morning pages, and almost every creative breakthrough (whether in my art, at work, or in other areas) has come about when I have bypassed my inner critic and censor.  This blog wouldn’t exist without my morning pages – from overcoming the fear of starting the blog to generating the ideas for the posts.  All of the difficult decisions I have faced in the last three years – ending a long-term relationship, changing jobs – and even the easy, joyful ones – going to Kauai on vacation, getting a dog – all came with greater ease and clarity when I stopped censoring myself.  
  7. Don’t let others read your pages.  It should be clear that your pages are private.  In three years, I’ve only shared what I wrote once with someone, and only because it was a joyful letter to that person that happened to come out onto the page that day.  I do recommend going back and reading your pages every so often, particularly if you’re struggling with an issue.  There are times I wish I had re-read things with less of a time lapse so that I could see exactly what I was feeling and thinking to drive to a decision more quickly.

I am very grateful to have discovered the power of morning pages. They receive my fears, my joys, my prayers, my desires, my dislikes, my gratitude, my hopes, my dreams, my contemplation, my pleas, and my love.  How about you?  If you write daily, please share your experiences.  If you don’t, please share any thoughts you have on starting.

5 thoughts on “Morning pages

  1. Leslie Sobon

    Teresa, thank you so much for this! I had lapsed in my morning pages and your blog inspired me to start again this week. I have found them to be the best avenue to get the “chatter” out of my head…to find some clarity. When diligent, they can serve as a form of meditation. I’m also an advocate for choosing your specific notebook wisely – for me it’s the ruled Moleskine, 5×8. Spirals are tough for lefties! Thanks again.

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  2. Brad McCarty

    Teresa,
    Okay, you win. I’ll try writing in the mornings. After all, as a newbie at journaling, I suppose I should try several different methods to see what fits best. At this early point, I feel good about putting my thoughts on paper. I hope that later I can recognize the benefits of clearing my mind of all the trivial clutter that never gets organized in a to-do list. I’m still trying to determine when or how frequently I should review my historical entries. I have to admit, I still have hesitation in expressing issues or feelings that are no longer safely stored in my mind. Once on paper, they could be exposed. Then again, maybe by journaling about these things it will help in dealing with them. We’ll see. Thanks.

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