What Are Morning Pages and How To Do Them
Julia Cameron – guru and pioneer
Julia Cameron is often referred to as the ‘Queen of Change’ (the New York Times). She is passionate about bringing creativity into everyday life; that we talk about it more, that we believe we are all creative, and that it can form an integral part of every corner of our lives, from home and family, to work and interests.
It probably goes without saying that she is one of my idols.
I talk about Julia’s work a lot in my workshops and have used many of her practices myself as well as recommended them to others.
That’s not to say that all the activities suggested in The Artist’s Way are easy or even comfortable; many, such as the work around blame and jealousy do not make easy reading, let alone an enjoyable activity, but working through them is so clearly a big part of what makes the course actually work, and the way Julia introduces each idea, through a compelling story and a humour that I find to be so refreshingly honest and vulnerable, kind of makes you believe anything she says and therefore trust that the process is going to work for you long before you have any proof that it will.
Julia Cameron herself is a writer, artist, songwriter, poet, filmmaker and playwright, but it’s worth pointing out here that the morning pages, or indeed any of the practices in The Artist’s Way are not just for writers and artists – the very point of it is that everyone has creativity within them, and that it can be applied to any and all walks of life.
I’m focusing here on the morning pages specifically, rather than the whole of The Artist’s Way course, for two reasons:
The morning pages are the foundation of The Artist’s Way process, and it is recommended that you start writing them a few days or weeks ahead of launching into the main 12-week course, so that they become a daily habit you don’t have to spend too much time remembering to do, before adding in more daily and weekly tasks.
The Artist’s Way is a very detailed book and course, with many activities that could each be approached as a separate practice. My intention is to pick out the ones that really resonate with me – that either I love or dislike, but that had the biggest impact, and to test, demonstrate and review them in detail one at a time so that you know what to expect before plunging in!
What exactly are morning pages?
Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow – Julia Cameron
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.
They form the basis of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – described as “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”.
The Artist’s Way is a self-managed 12-week programme of concepts and activities to unblock your creativity, and the morning pages practice launches and runs throughout the whole process.
So the concept of morning pages is very simple – you get up each morning and you write.
Yet the very concept of that is somehow terrifying, isn’t it?
We have busy lives, routines to stick to, responsibilities to meet, people who need us to be places, commitments we can’t get out of.
In all of my years of journaling, and in all of my teaching/sharing of journaling practices, I have, for the most part, considered journaling to be an evening activity. It’s a review of the day, an activity that slows us down, allows us to reflect, to sit with our thoughts and plan for the days ahead. Writing in my journal feels like I’m taking care of myself, because I’m giving myself time to ponder and reflect and dream. It’s a process that I don’t think can or should be rushed or forced. None of what I have just written fits into my typical morning in even the most tenuous way.
So the idea of writing, and let’s be honest here, not just writing a few lines, but three full pages, first thing in a morning, didn’t come across to me as a particularly relaxing start to the day. It felt like another task to fit in to an already very hectic routine.
But I’ll get back into a more positive mindset now – it must be possible right? If busy people, leaders in their field, such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Martin Scorsese, Reese Witherspoon and Russell Brand to name a few, swear by it and claim it has changed their lives. I am not so arrogant to think that my life is so much busier than theirs, so it must be possible to fit it in. The only way to find out was to give it a go.
What will I achieve by writing every day?
The idea is that by downloading everything you have running through your mind – especially all the worries and anxieties that can so easily take over up there – onto paper, that you are then free to start your day with a clear mind and a tighter grasp of your priorities.
In the longer term, and actually, the main theme of The Artist’s Way is to unblock your creativity and be free to express yourself in whatever art form you choose.
But if you are to take on this new daily task, which is not exactly a quick and easy thing to tick off your to-do list, but rather a full-on commitment to upgrade your morning routine, you will undoubtedly want to know what it will it do for you.
The benefits people have noticed are:
Uncovering problems that may have been dismissed or played down, like the effects of past traumas or elements of your life you are not content with
Tackling limiting beliefs – that pesky inner voice we all hear from time to time – ‘You’re not good enough’, ‘It’s too late’, ‘You can’t do that’.
Starting to feel more empowered to change the things in your life you are not happy with
Proof, through doing the act of writing, that you are creative and have lots of creative ideas, that you might just not be paying attention to
A more active imagination, or clarity of mind when it comes to creative ideas and possibilities
Connecting to your thoughts and feelings on a deeper level
A greater perspective on all the daily niggly tasks that used to feel urgent but not fulfilling
Lower anxiety and time spent worrying about things you can’t control
Help to prioritise the things that really matter in the day ahead
A sense of achievement for sticking to a writing habit that is proven to improve your self-esteem
How to start morning pages
I wanted to focus more on ‘what to write’ rather then ‘what they are’ in this post, because the concept of the morning pages is actually very simple: “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning”.
There’s not much more I can add to that as an explanation, but if you’re anything like me, my first thought is, ‘Well that’s all very well but what on earth do I write about for three pages?’
Of course I am in love with journaling, and notebooks and pens and all the things that go along with journaling, and as you may have read from my previous posts, I do journal every day, without fail…but three pages really? That’s pushing it even for me.
So once I’d decided I was going to take on this challenge, and to fully commit to it, mainly to see what all the fuss was about, and whether it would in fact ‘work’ for me – because isn’t that all we really want to know – my next question was ‘how big do the pages have to be?’
Perhaps there was a little procrastination going on there, but I like to have the full details of a challenge before I begin. So I looked into it and the FAQs on Julia Cameron’s website said…A4. ‘You’ve got to be kidding. Seriously, who has time to write three pages of A4 first thing in the morning.
Now I may have mentioned my unshakable loyalty to Leuchtturm a time or two – this is my ‘go-to’ notebook. I have one for work and one as my journal, and they are A5 – also known as the perfect size of notebook!
Who am I to argue with Julia Cameron, but still, the A4 issue was really putting me off, so here’s what I did – I compromised and used one of the composition books I had recently bought for a series of art journaling projects. My reasoning was it was bigger than my standard A5 but smaller than the ridiculous A4. That was just going to have to be good enough.
So I backed the book with nice paper, and made it look like something I’d actually want to write in every day. I picked a day to begin, put the notebook by my bed for the morning and was ready to take on the challenge.
What to write in your morning pages
There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. They are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – Julia Cameron
This brings me nicely to what to write. Obviously, I can’t tell you exactly what to write as the point of it is that you write whatever is in your head and that’s going to be different for everyone, but here are my top tips for what to write in your morning pages when you’re just getting started:
Start confidently in the knowledge that you can’t get this wrong. If you focus only on writing down whatever is in your head, you will always know what to write (there’s always something running around up there right?!)
If you’re finding it difficult to pick from thoughts, start with the thing that’s worrying you most. As you think about the day ahead reel off all the things you need to do, people you need to speak to, the jobs that you haven’t finished – all your worries and frustrations
However…don’t turn it into a ‘to do’ list. By keeping it in longhand – meaning full sentences – it’s not meant to be in a format that you can come back to and check you’ve got everything done. Write long, flowing sentences filled with all the things you have to do, but then close the notebook and get on with your day
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or the state of your handwriting. You’re not going to be handing it in. No-one should be reading it. You don’t even have to read it again if you choose not to. It’s more important to keep the thoughts flowing from your mind onto the paper, than it is to make it legible or in perfect English.
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you should be writing about something else. If you’re writing, you’re doing it right.
Making morning pages work for you
I’ve read various reviews on how people have found the experience of morning pages, with some saying they stuck to it religiously for months, even years, until it became as much a part of their morning routine as brushing their teeth.
Some stuck to the original guidance, of three full pages of A4, written before you do anything else that day, and some were more relaxed in their interpretation of the rules.
I noted that, when asked whether one could make a cup of coffee first before writing – which makes me think some people are taking this very seriously indeed – that Julia Cameron responded by saying yes, of course you can make a cup of coffee before sitting down to write, but do aim to write before you start the main tasks of your day.
I can imagine that this is how I would have approached morning pages, and in fact, the whole of The Artist’s Way programme, before I had children and an action-packed daily schedule to conduct. When I think back to the years I lived on my own and had a job where I worked regular hours, yes it would have been easy, enjoyable even, to think about getting up, making a cup of tea, writing my three pages then getting myself ready for work.
My reality looks very different to that. Before 8am I have made everyone’s breakfast, got the kids dressed for school, taken the dog out, emptied the dishwasher, usually cleaned up something unidentifiable, so I look at this task and think, ‘yeah, that’s not going to help me to start my day in a relaxed and focused way’.
So, if it’s a luxurious ‘best self’ kind of a way to start the day for a young, single professional, what is it for the rest of us?
How to fit in journaling when you’re already overwhelmed
After I’d been writing the morning pages for only a few days we set off on holiday to Filey. I had planned it this way, to do the challenge during the summer holidays when my kids were off school, we were away some of the time, and the mornings didn’t feel quite so frantic as they do during our ‘usual’ routine.
This turned out to be a good plan. When we were on holiday, I can honestly say I enjoyed writing my morning pages every single day. It felt like a holiday-like routine – to get up, make a cup of tea and write, whilst the rest of the family were also easing into their day, none of us in any real rush to do anything or set off anywhere.
When we got back however, it was a different story!
Even before the kids went back to school, there was just more to do. I was back to juggling my family responsibilities with running my business and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do, even when I feel I’ve stripped back my diary to the absolute priorities.
Of course the most obvious solution is to get up earlier. Yes, that’s right, set your alarm clock 30 minutes earlier so you can get up and write before your time is hijacked by anyone else.
I didn’t do that. I might. I often ponder whether I could ever become one of those people who gets up to go for a run before the rest of the family even wake up. But at the moment I’m not that person and I don’t want to be. If that works for you, then go for it!
So if I’m honest, the morning pages challenge began to feel more like a chore. There were several mornings when I wholeheartedly resented it. I may have even sworn at my notebook on one occasion. In short, it just became too much.
So if on one extreme people take Julia Cameron’s words as law, and they write first thing every morning without fail, before doing anything else, others create their own interpretation and write ‘at their earlier convenience’. I guess that’s the compromise for those of us with uncompromising mornings – if you want to write, if you’ve committed to writing, then write when you can, still aiming for every day.
I don’t know if the theory behind morning pages would still work if you wrote in an afternoon or an evening instead – but I’m sure it would still have its benefits, as all journaling practices do.
So if you’re already feeling overwhelmed and trying to wrestle with a busy morning, take a step back and decide what would work for you, then do that.
The bottom line is, if it doesn’t fit into your day, as you choose to live it, then no amount of reasoning is going to make it work for you.
Observations on the first 30 days
Yes, it was quite a relief to get to 30 days, and I must admit, I gave myself a break from morning pages for a little while, but I will go back to them, I am certain of that.
Having read through some of my pages and reflected on my experience of doing the morning pages, these are the main findings from my experiment:
I found I didn’t moan and complain in my pages anywhere near as much as I thought I would. Overall, they were very positive.
I’m always reading one or more non-fiction books at any one time, and because I was reading even more than usual during this holiday time I found the pages gave me a space to articulate my thoughts on what I was reading, to make sense of the ideas and to better cement them in my mind.
I did, on a number of occasions, find a story coming through – there was a town, a main character and a plot idea. I don’t know where they came from or if I’d ever do anything with them, but it was reassuring to feel that creative flow.
One of the key things I noticed was that every time I started writing, three pages felt like a lot of lines to fill, but at the end of each day’s session, I felt like I could have carried on for much longer.
In setting up my business and having some big ambitions, I have always found it challenging to get people to understand what I’m doing and why. I think very long-term, I have big ambitions and I admire the writing and processes of thought leaders such as Marie Forleo, Gabby Bernstein and Brendon Burchard, but I don’t know anybody else who does, or whose mind works like that. So it can feel like quite a lonely place, following a dream that people often frown at! So the journal became like a sounding board, a place I could share without anyone saying ‘but what about…’ or telling me why something wouldn’t work.
It was a bit like having a friend who just listened. If I’m going to go even deeper with this line of thought, and get even more honest, it was like that friend was me. It was like I was finally, sincerely listening to my own thoughts and feelings, and not judging them.
Okay Julia, you were right. Of course.
I’ll be back with another review of one of Julia Cameron’s practices soon, as well as lots more songwriting, journaling and mindful art activities to supercharge your wellbeing. Make sure you don’t miss anything by signing up here