Morning Pages Will Make You a Better Writer, but Not in the Way You Expect
Julia Cameron is a writer, creativity coach, and author of The Artist’s Way, one of the great books written on creativity in the last several decades. It sits on my bookshelf next to Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman and Triggering Town by Richard Hugo.
One of the fundamental concepts of The Artist’s Way is the practice of “Morning Pages”. Cameron describes “morning pages” as described by Cameron are "three pages, longhand stream of consciousness writing done first thing in the morning."
I first discovered the practice when I was in college, and for a long time, I struggled with several concepts of that simple description:
What size pages should I use? Do they need to be big pages or can they be a small journal?
Do I necessarily write them or can I type them?
Does first thing in the morning mean when I first wake up, or after breakfast, or can I do them in the evening?
Does it have to be good writing or “creative writing” at all? Can it be just journaling or writing my grocery list?
And most importantly -
Will this make me a better writer?
In the long time that I have done morning pages, I have realized what morning pages are and what they are not.
Morning pages are not an artistic practice, but rather a spiritual one.
Morning pages are best looked at as a form of meditation. By writing in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, you are giving focus to the background thoughts that are floating in and out of your awareness. By writing every morning, you are virtually “cleaning house” and letting all the ephemera that is constantly vying for our attention to be released from our brain to the page. Additionally, the method of translating our thoughts to page starts working out the kinks in our internal mental gears. I often find it easy to think of morning pages as a warm-up to the creativity of any particular day.
Morning pages, more often than not, going to be relatively negative.
Much of our interaction with people and the world at large can be stressful. Often, those frustrations have a way to build up in the corners of our mind. The missed phone calls, the surprise slight, the declined credit card when getting a cup of coffee, or the unexpectedly large electrical bill may not be a problem by itself, but they have a way of building up and taking over your thoughts and poisoning your creativity. By allowing those hurts, resentments, and frustrations out onto the page, you are helping to clear out a lot of the stray thoughts that have a way of getting in the way of connecting to your imagination and sense of adventure. Somewhere in those pages, other more creative ideas will begin to poke their head out of the jumble of thoughts which you can develop.
The Particulars of Morning Pages Doesn’t Matter; Doing it Consistently Does
With the knowledge that I may upset some purists, I suggest allowing "the form to follow function." Like any regular practice (exercise, good eating choices, meditation), the importance is not on how you do it, but rather that you do it every day (or nearly so). Do you want to write long-hand with a quill in a leather-bound volume? Sure, go for it. Want to do morning pages at 6 pm when you are on the way home from work. No problem. Want to type everything into a program like 750words.com at 3 am. Why not? Mornings are often suggested to do anything consistently because, for the majority of us, life is less pressing at 6:30 am. However, much of it depends on you and your schedule.
Morning Pages Don’t Make You a Better Writer, But They Keep You Writing
This is a tough one. I think one of the misunderstandings is that writing three pages every day will lead to brilliance within your chosen artistic field, and that is almost never the case. Much like a better golf swing or a championship gymnast, better art comes from years of deliberate practice. And much like being an athlete, one of the biggest dangers is burn-out from frustration, mental blocks, and internal criticism. Morning pages as a daily practice help establish a safe space for your creative life so that you can give your art the best parts of yourself.
Morning pages are an excellent tool for all artistic types. However, it is essential to understand how they can best help you in your creative work. Morning pages are not a source of creativity, but rather the tool that allows your creativity to flourish at other creative work periods. No one is going to develop a great book, sculpture or painting during a half-hour-a-day stream-of-conscious writing sessions. It takes considerable time, will-power and confidence to keep at any artistic endeavor to get good (and even more to get really good). However, morning pages help keep your creative mind clean, well-oiled, and humming each day.