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Have you ever felt like your brain is full of tv-static? Or like there are too many tabs open? Life is pretty busy nowadays! There’s work, school, family, bills, shopping, concerns, and sometimes even hobbies to think about. I often feel like I have so many thoughts rolling around in my brain that I can’t even sort them out! This makes accomplishing tasks and goals pretty tough. All this noise gets in the way of our personal and creative lives.
But! I have found a way to help sort through these thoughts and give my day some clarity. It is called Morning Pages.
Popularized by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, morning pages are “3 pages of daily longhand stream of consciousness, written first thing upon arising”.
Now before you scroll away, Morning Pages are not just for artists! They can be used by anyone - whether you are an artist or not. Many, many people have claimed that Morning Pages changed their lives. From helping them finish their first novel to improving their relationships, Morning Pages are a highly revered daily practice.
After first learning about Morning Pages, I decided I would give them a 30 day chance to see if they are worth my time. Spoiler: I'm now on day 100.
What are Morning Pages? How do I write them?
Morning pages are a simple daily practice with big results. As Julia Cameron said, “the pages are simple yet profound. We discover an inner voice that speaks to us with greater and greater clarity.” There is no wrong way to do them, you can do whatever is best for you, but there are some aspects to consider so that you can get the most out of them.
1. Daily and First thing in the morning
Yes, you have to wake up and write these first thing in the morning (but not before you make some coffee). This is because the pages are not meant to be a recounting of what happened in the day you just had. It’s not like a journal or diary where you document the events of each day. It's a way to clear our minds and prepare us for the day ahead. They give us space in our brains so that we can approach the rest of the day with clarity. Even when it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill, having the daily practice will prepare you for being creative. It helps with discipline, which is an often overlooked but key aspect of living a creative life. And no matter what it is you write, keeping up with the daily habit will produce benefits as well. As Aristotle once said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It doesn't matter what you write; it is more important that you write every day.
2. Stream of Consciousness
What does it mean to write stream of consciousness and why is it important? As I mentioned, this is not a journal. Think of it more like a brain dump. A way to rid yourself of unwanted thoughts living rent-free in your brain. Thoughts like what Julia Cameron calls, “mental static”. It's that pesky voice that follows you around saying things like, “you need to sort the laundry,” or “don't forget to buy some pasta,”. These are just noise, and they cloud your thoughts and keep you from focusing on your priorities. You may also find yourself using morning pages for venting and ranting and whining. That’s normal. They can be used to take those negative thoughts out of your brain so that you’re left with the optimistic and hopeful thoughts for the rest of the day. That’s why morning pages are unique. They’re not meant to be “high art,”. You’re not trying to write something profound. In fact, it's best to avoid any kind of perfectionism with these. They are meant to be messy. So you may write sentences that are only half-finished or that don't make any sense. Or you may write pointless things like, “I don’t know what to write.” This is also why it's recommended that you don't allow anyone to read these. You write them, and then you’re done with them.
3. Three Full Pages
It's also recommended that you write 3 full pages longhand. If the idea of writing that much seems daunting, use a smaller book. The goal is to commit to finishing 3 full pages, no matter how much writing that actually is. Julia Cameron believes that 3 pages of 8.5 by 11 paper is the most ideal, however. The book itself isn't that important - just as long as it's one dedicated to your morning pages and nothing else.
Now, you might be wondering why you have to use a pen when it's the 21st century and we have computers and even phones we could use. If that’s what's best for you, write your morning pages digitally. However, you will see more results if you write them in longhand. This is because longhand requires us to slow down, and “by slowing down, we connect to our emotions and our intuitions.” Writing things down instead of typing them makes our words carry more importance. It's not easy to delete or backtrack on what we are saying. It takes more time, and it doesn't allow for editing. Typing may be less time-consuming and more efficient, but efficient doesn't equal better in this case. Writing by hand allows for more reflection and self-awareness, and you’re less likely to be emotionally detached from the practice.
Be Prepared! Set up a space free of distractions
It's important to know that you’re not always going to be in the mood to do your morning pages. So it's best to set everything up beforehand so that there’s less resistance.
- Pick a spot. Having a specific spot helps keep you in a good morning routine. Make sure it’s somewhere comfortable and free from distractions.
- Silence your phone. Nothing calls our attention away quicker than a notification on our phones! So turn it off. Just for 30 minutes.
- Grab a drink. Coffee, water, tea - whatever! This will help you relax and keep you from getting up in the middle of your writing when you realize you’re thirsty.
- Feed the cat ahead of time. Or whatever task will distract you! To really write stream of consciousness, you don’t want to pause your writing because the cat is angry.
- Background music! This is a preference but I find music helps me focus. I always pick something free from lyrics so it doesn’t distract me from the words I’m writing. I also find headphones to be the best option for tuning everything else out.
This is too much work!
I know, I totally get it. Remember the beginning of this? We’re very busy people! So how are you supposed to add even more on to your busy life with 3 pages of writing?
It may sound like a lot of work, and you may be thinking, “I don't have time for that.” But the benefits far outweigh the time used. By getting up 30 minutes earlier, or by putting away social media for an extra 30 minutes, you could be freeing up time for something that will improve your whole day; or life, as many people say.
When Julia Cameron is asked why she writes morning pages she says, “’To get to the other side’…the other side of our fear, our negativity, of our moods.”
And that might just be worth your time.
7 Benefits of Morning Pages
There really are so many benefits that come with writing morning pages. I don't think I can even list half of them here, but I will tell you about some of the ones I experienced the most.
The first and main benefit I had from morning pages is the clarity. Being able to dump all my noisy thoughts onto the page made room for more important thoughts. This made my day feel less overwhelming. Kind of like having a clean desk to work at.
2. Problem Identification and Solving
The second benefit I really noticed was the problem identification and solving. A lot of times I have a problem lurking in the back of my head that is affecting my day, but I either don't have a way to solve it, or I don’t even know what it is so that I can solve it. When I sit down and start writing stream of consciousness, however, sometimes the problem reveals itself.
3. Stress and Anxiety
The third benefit was improving my stress and anxiety. A lot of my worries come from things that I can’t change, but they still roll around in my brain. When I put them down on paper, it takes their power away. Sometimes, once those anxieties are on the page, I realize they’re something that I won't even be thinking about 10 days from now. The anxieties shrink. They’re less consequential.
4. Ranting and Negativity
The fourth benefit is having a place to rant. I can be negative and complain if I need to, without it affecting anyone else. And a lot of times, once I do that, the pages shine a mirror back at me. This provokes me to have grace when I need to or to examine why those things are bothering me. With understanding comes the ability to manage my emotions. I do think it’s important to note, however, that you don't want to develop a habit of complaining. So be careful about making negative statements.
5. Productivity, Decision Making, and Goals
The fifth benefit is productivity, decision making, and goal setting. One of my biggest problems is being able to prioritize tasks. When your to-do list is long and glaring at you, it’s overwhelming to try to pick what you should do next. What I noticed with morning pages is that the most important things would repeat themselves in my writing. If there was something I was putting off, I would be able to see that and start examining why. If I felt stuck, I could debate my next step. Also, I could debate the pros and cons of something I was considering doing. Sometimes, I would learn that there is something I want to try that I wouldn't normally consider. Something might continue to pop up in the pages and urge me to give it a chance.
As Julia Cameron puts it, “Morning pages may hold insights and intuitions that startle you. Typically, they puncture denial.”
6. Learning More About Myself
That brings me to my sixth benefit, which is discovering what I like and what I don't like. Crazy as it seems, sometimes we don't know what we like. Sometimes, we don't have an answer to how we want to be spending our time. This could be in the broad sense. As in, feeling lost or looking for meaning and purpose. Or it could be smaller, like discovering you enjoy baking cookies in the shape of cartoon characters. It's easy to be wrapped up in our day-to-day lives, in all of our routines and our work, to the point that we don't even know what things bring us joy, and what things drain us. But, once you realize that you keep talking about cookies in your morning pages, you realize that you might want to start making time to bake.
Finally, the seventh benefit I got from morning pages is creativity. Morning pages themselves are not art. But they do help us with art and creativity indirectly.
“Although the content of morning pages seems to have nothing to do with art, they often move us first to more artful lives, and then to art itself.” - Julia Cameron
This could be by quieting the inner critic that keeps telling me I can’t paint. Or, because I’m being less analytic with these pages, I'm able to be more imaginative; almost like being a kid again. Also, as I mentioned earlier, they help me become more disciplined in my creative practice. They help with creative blocks. They give me a chance to find new ideas. Since people are most creative in the morning, getting up first thing and writing allows for more opportunities to catch new ideas. And that’s how it feels! While you’re writing your Morning Pages, new ideas seemingly pop up on their own and you get to pluck them from the pages.
To this, Julia Cameron says, “The morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.”
Now, I could definitely go on longer talking about all the benefits this simple exercise can have on your life, but I will leave you with those seven. Check out the first chapters in The Artists Way to learn more.
What I have discovered over these last 100 days is that morning pages clean out all the clutter in my brain. It's a personal and private way for me to express myself without censorship. And because of that, I am able to understand myself better, “what I like, what I don't like. What I want, what I don't want.” Morning pages uncover interests and opinions and enthusiasms that I didn't even know existed. It also helped reveal problems, and then the answers to those problems. It's funny how there can be an issue lurking in the back of my mind that I don't even realize was bothering me.
Morning pages are a tool for discovering where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there.
I highly recommend morning pages. For anyone, whether you're an artist or not. And I hope you give them at least a 30-day chance.