Morning pages is a tool taken from The Artists Way, which I would highly recommend to anyone suffering from artists block or with a desire to bring more creativity into their everyday life. Also if you have fixed ideas about who artists are and how they behave and that you can’t be one of them, this book can help to change that.
Morning pages are a kind of journaling and it’s not just for writers, it’s for literally everyone. They have no structure so it’s not quite journaling as such and it’s not meant to be a diary either. It’s more like a brain dump or free association, or whatever you want it to be really.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused and suffering from rushing thoughts that never seem to end, you can use morning pages to get those thoughts, feelings and ideas out of your head and onto the page instead.
Just for you
Morning pages are not meant for the eyes of others. You may decide to share them with a very close friend or partner as a tool to reach a deeper understanding, but that’s not the goal.
It’s important to remember that diaries, journals and other kinds of writing are just writing, like thoughts are just thoughts. Not everything you write has deep or lasting meaning. Although some of it certainly does.
I wouldn’t advise showing your pages to anyone who will take them very personally or be overly judgemental unless you want to actively invite discussion.
Readers should be by invitation only.
Keep or discard?
I don’t keep my books for more than a year. After I’ve been through them with a highlighter to capture anything that seems important I let them go. I imagine the magic of the writing is still working for me as the paper is recycled and becoming something new.
Keep or discard; it’s up to you.
Paper and pens
When I first started I used books and pens that I already had lying around. Ugly ones. I started off writing the recommended 3 pages. I wrote in large books and small books and I moved from book to book partway through as I tried to get comfortable with it.
Now I buy relatively cheap A5 notebooks and write one page a day. A bit like my Bullet Journal, I don’t make any effort to produce beautiful books. For some people morning pages could be a creative experience. For me, it’s a bit like flossing; I don’t have to do it every day but if I leave it too long it’s unpleasant for everyone. It’s not even a chore, it’s just something I do now.
Forming a habit
If you are interested in forming habits (or breaking a habit) I would recommend Better Than Before. Gretchen Rubin gives you lots of different strategies to try.
For morning pages I used the strategy of pairing – I pair morning pages with eating breakfast. I eat breakfast every day and I can easily fill a page during my bowl of muesli. I don’t think morning pages need to occur in the morning specifically, just aim to find a regular time that works for you.
I tend not to write when I am on vacation or have visitors. I don’t always write on the weekends either. Sometimes I write extra entries if I feel the need. Again; you make your own rules.
The experience of writing
Morning pages is one of the most consistent tools I have used in recent years and how I feel when I am writing them is completely inconsistent. I have written many pages in tears, in anger, sometimes I smile or laugh as I write. Sometimes I realise I have been staring into space for 10 minutes and I’ve only written half a page. I have also used them as a pep talk when I am nervous. Morning pages will be whatever you need them to be.
The experience of reading
In The Artists Way the recommendation is to wait a couple of months before re-reading your pages. I completely agree with this. Thoughts can stay painfully fresh even when you’ve taken the step to put them on paper, so letting some time pass allows you to get some rest.
Reading them later can help to clarify if something is still bothering you, if it’s resolved now or if you completely forgot about it! This can bring your thoughts into clearer perspective and after a while you will start to see what’s really important.
A new tool
Recently I’ve taken a different approach to re-reading my morning pages. As I read I am noting 4 things:
It is impressive how many small changes and improvements it’s possible to make over a relatively short amount of time and it’s wonderful to see this in black and white. It’s important to see everything in your writing – the dark and the light.
Core themes and beliefs
My writing tends to be very repetitive which can be painful and boring to read, but it’s very easy to decipher. If the same thing comes up over and over again, good or bad, it needs to be celebrated or addressed.
If your writing is more chaotic and scattered perhaps there is some overarching theme? Is there something that is curiously missing from your writing? It could be that you need a lot more time to pass in order to see a slow cycle or pattern emerge.
‘I miss swimming’ written 3 different times is a clear action point. Actions are pretty easy to spot.
Insights or resonating words
Occasionally I come across a line in my writing that beautifully sums something up or resonates now in a way it didn’t at the time of writing…
Why I think it works
If you can form an idea or emotion into words you are a step closer to understanding it. It creates some comfortable distance as the words are literally out of your head and onto a page. You can close the book and walk away. You can let the words marinate in time. You can burn the page on a bonfire if you need to!
- Morning pages are whatever you want them to be – completely free expression.
- They are just for you and they can change form mid-sentence, it really doesn’t matter.
- It’s cheap to do with no special tools required.
- They are not meant to be kept, displayed or shared.
- The writing is its own end.
Don’t do it right!
Many people feel intense anxiety to look ‘right’, behave ‘well’ and speak ‘appropriately’ and it’s very useful to remember that you can do something and be completely yourself and nothing terrible happens! You can scribble a whole page until the paper tears one day and write in proper sentences the next.
Not everything you do is that important! You don’t have to do everything ‘the right way’.
If you decide to give it a try let me know.
If you’ve already been doing it for years, what have you found works best for you?
Co-founder, The Clean Sheet