Your brain is full of a million things. From the moment you get out of bed in the morning, to the time you collapse back into it at the end of the day, your mind is racing trying to keep up with EVERYTHING. If you’re like me, that chatter doesn’t even stop when you go to sleep. If you could hear everything that goes through my head in an average day, it would sound like a jumbled mash-up of grocery lists, club schedules and housework, with some worry and a bit of negative self-talk thrown in. What if there was a tool to help you get all that crap out of the way at the beginning of the day, clearing the way for more constructive, useful thoughts? That’s why you need morning pages.
WTF Are Morning Pages?
Let’s get right to the point.
Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, that you do first thing in the morning.
There’s no editing, no planning, no thinking through what you’re going to say and how to say it. Morning pages are channelled straight from your head onto the paper.
They’re a way of clearing the sludge from your mental systems before you go into the rest of your day, and they’re freaking magical! I love morning pages, and my life works so much better when I’m using them.
Today is day 250 in an unbroken streak of writing my pages. I’ve dipped in and out of the habit over the years. Amazon tells me I bought The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron’s book on creative recovery, which teaches the use of the pages as one of its foundational tools) almost ten years ago. So, the habit’s been in my life for nearly a decade, and I’ve hopped on and off the morning pages wagon.
Right now, I’m firmly on the wagon, and I’m loving it.
What’s So Good About Morning Pages?
Clarity – Morning pages are a way to dump all the muddy, negative, crappy thoughts out of your head, and make way for the rest of the day.
Action – Do you have the same old shit rolling around your head day after day? The same worries, the same complaints? Me too. It’s a lot harder to let things slide, though, once you start writing about them every day. Morning pages can nudge you towards taking action on the things that come up day after day – and they’re the things that make the biggest difference.
Zap Your Inner Critic – You know, that voice inside your head telling you that everything you do is crap, and there’s no point in even trying? The inner critic relies on staying inside your head because that’s where his or her power is. Morning pages help you get those nasty whisperings out into the world where they can’t do any harm.
Ideas – Writing morning pages can also help you come up with ideas. Morning pages let you switch off the part of your brain that constantly shuts down all your ideas, and you might be surprised at what comes through.
Patterns – Another benefit is that morning pages can help you spot patterns. That one thing you’re always moaning about? That day when you always wake up feeling out of sorts and hacked off with the world? Those are patterns, and once you’ve spotted them, it’s easier to figure out how to fix things.
Remember – My morning pages also help me to remember things. I keep my bullet journal right next to me so that I can make a quick note if something comes up that I need to remember. Once again, it’s about relaxing your mind, engaging the subconscious, and giving your brain the space it needs.
Longhand? First Thing?
Yup. Well, if you want to stick to Julia Cameron’s recommendation, then yes. She says you should write your three pages by hand, as soon as you wake up each day.
For the most part, I agree.
I always write my morning pages longhand. There’s a special connection between your brain and the page when you work this way. Typing just isn’t the same. I also think there’s a temptation to skip back and edit when you’re using a computer. This process is supposed to be about telling your inner critic to take a long walk off a short pier, not letting him nitpick over your spellings.
I almost always write first thing in the morning. However, pages done later are better than pages not written at all. I have no idea whether Julia Cameron had children clamouring for her attention in the mornings, or whether she was waking ten times a night, I suspect not. I try to get my pages done as early as possible.
At this stage of my parenting journey, I’m rarely alone first thing in the morning. I write my morning pages to a soundtrack of CBeebies and endless questions most mornings, and that’s okay for now. In my ideal, perfect world, I’d be getting a full night’s sleep and leaping out of bed at five in the morning – but even then I’d only beat my 4-year-old out of bed about half the time.
It’s always good to know the rules before you break them.
My take on it is that the morning pages can facilitate enormous change in your life, but that they need to be done consistently in order for you to see the effects. If tweaking the rules lets you be more consistent, then do whatever works for you.
Can You Skip Days?
That one’s on you – completely your choice.
This time around I am writing every single day. I haven’t skipped any days since I started 250 days ago. Life gets in the way, so sometimes my morning pages have been done right before bed, and sometimes they’ve been considerably shorter than three pages. I have written on every single one of those days though.
I’m a sucker for an unbroken streak.
I think it’s my favourite way to build a habit. I literally have a calendar scrawled in the front of my journal, and I cross the days off as I go.
The Nitty Gritty – How I Write My Morning Pages
My practice is pretty simple.
My A4 journal lives next to my bed, in a zipped folder, with a couple of pens.
I take the folder downstairs with me when I get up. I make coffee for myself and breakfast for the small person. Then I write.
My pages are often interrupted by the need to go and wake people for school, or for conversations with the small person. (He seems to spend the night thinking of unanswerable questions to ask me in the morning). I try not to get distracted for too long and aim to get my pages written in half an hour.
As for what I write, it’s usually three pages of blah. Mutterings about how well I did something yesterday, or how little I achieved. Moans about the state of the house, the laziness of the teenagers, the annoyingness of the husband. I never go back and read what I’ve written.
When I get stuck, I just write, ‘What else?’ and usually something comes to me within a few seconds.
When my three pages are full, I stop. I’ll finish the sentence, squeezing a few words below the bottom line if needed, but I almost never go across to the fourth page.
Then, if I have time, I’ll write a page of various affirmations. These vary, depending on what goals I’m focusing on, or what I’ve been reading lately. Generally, I’ll do three different affirmations and write them out ten times each. That leaves me a few lines to make some kind of positive statement about how I’d like my day to go.
After that, I cross the date off in the calendar at the front, put everything back in the folder and that’s it until tomorrow.
My Favourite Tools
While I love a fancy notebook as much as the next person, I’m not particularly picky when it comes to my morning pages journal. I go for something with decent paper so that I can write on both sides of the page without the ink bleeding through. I prefer spiral bound since I tend to be writing with the book on my knee, or on the arm of the sofa, so I like to be able to fold it back on itself. These great notebooks are what I’ve been buying lately, and I’m really happy with them.
I’m a bit fussier when it comes to pens. I buy these, in as big a box as I can find, so that I always have plenty on hand. A lot of my day-to-day writing is in fountain pen, using bottled ink, but the Uniball Eyefines are just faster, so they work better for my morning pages. I also keep at least a couple attached to my bullet journal, since I never lend my fountain pen to anyone.
Will Morning Pages Really Make Me A Better Person?
I believe so, if you let them.
Being a ‘better person’ looks different for all of us, but it’s always going to require an element of reflection.
Morning pages offer that reflection.
They take you deep into all the corners of your life, from your annoyance at forgetting to put the bins out, to your dream of selling a million copies of your as-yet-unwritten novel. It’s all there.
Making the commitment to write morning pages every day is making a commitment to listen to yourself in all your moods. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself by what flows from your pen.
Get Started Tomorrow
Starting to write morning pages couldn’t be simpler:
- Get a notebook and pen ready before you go to bed.
- Set your alarm – consider whether you need to wake up earlier to fit in this new routine.
- Wake up and write.
I would love for you to buy The Artist’s Way and go through the whole process of creative recovery outlined by Julia Cameron. I think it’s a worthwhile experience, and I’ve repeated the course several times (although I’ve never managed to stick with the Artist’s Dates). If that doesn’t appeal, though, you can still see massive benefits just from using this one tool.
The morning pages will help you grow into the person you want to be – you just have to give them a chance.