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Six Tips to Help You Harness the Magic of Journaling Morning Pages

by Jacki Andre 07 Jun 2020
Six Tips to Help You Harness the Magic of Journaling Morning Pages

Hello friends,

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard of morning pages by this point. Julia Cameron introduced the concept in her book The Artist’s Way, back in 1992. They’ve been a part of our collective cultural consciousness for almost three decades and I still  don’t understand them. Maybe it would help if I had ever read The Artist’s Way. But I haven’t. Heh.

I know that many people value morning pages. I actively keep writing journals myself. But I’ve never been tempted to find out more about morning pages or give them a whirl. Isn’t The Artist’s Way for, well, artists? I'm a writer, but I don’t consider myself an artist.  Also, I am definitely not a morning person. I can’t imagine finding time to write three pages every morning, unless I somehow reconfigure my circadian rhythm.

I do occasionally pick up self-help books. But I’ve never felt the need to delve into a “quasi-spiritual manual for ‘creative recovery,’” as Cameron describes her book. Do I want to be a badass as per Jen Sincero? Yep! Do I want to be happier as per Gretchen Rubin? You betcha. Do I want to find my “quiet center, the place where [I will] hear the still, small voice that is at once my creator’s and my own” as per Julia Cameron? Um, I’m not sure.

And so, feeling like morning pages were not for me, I missed that whole boat. But! It may be time to reconsider this technique. I am, after all, over a month late submitting this semi-weekly blog. Clearly I need a tool to help get my creativity back. (Hey. Life. It happens. I’m grateful for an understanding client. Yes, that’s some shameless sweet talk right there.)

Morning Pages: The Nutshell

The concept of morning pages is pretty simple: ASAP after you roll out of bed, start handwriting in a stream of consciousness style. The goal is to cover three sides of regularly-sized notepaper. That’s about size A4 for you paper geeks out there. Oh. Wait. Right. This is a journaling blog. We’re all paper geeks.

Since morning pages are meant to replicate your thoughts, they should replicate  them. There’s no need to be organized, articulate, and grammatically correct. In an interview with the New York Times, Cameron explains that instead of setting a topic and writing about it, we should just write what comes to mind, “jumping from topic to topic, gathering insights and directions from many quarters.”

For those of us who consider writing a craft, it can be difficult to let go and just write. If that’s a struggle for you too, Megan over at Page Flutter has a great suggestion:

I had to remind myself that no one else would read my morning pages. I ended up switching from my Rhodia journal to a regular old legal pad. Once I had cheap paper under my very fast and amazing pen, I felt better about letting it write disposable words.

How exactly does it all work? Read on for tips and inspo.

The Magic of Cameron’s Guidelines

There are three key concepts in the creation of morning pages: they must be written in the morning; they must be written longhand on three pages; and they must be written in a stream of consciousness style.

Write in the morning

Cameron believes that writing first thing in the morning is critical. She’s quoted in the New York Times as saying that, “Jungians tell us we have about a 45-minute window before our ego’s defenses are in place in the morning. Writing promptly upon awakening, we utilize the authenticity available to us in that time frame.”

Put pen to three pages

Cameron argues that when we type, we transcribe our thoughts so quickly that we don’t actually think about them. But when we hand write, we have time to consider our thoughts more deeply and connect the dots between disparate pieces of information. As Cameron says in her own blog, “The act of slowing down brings us to real and surprising clarity, offering insights we would have otherwise missed.”

The number of pages is important too. Write less than three pages and you might only scratch the surface. Write more than three pages and you might be tempted to dwell or ruminate on things. Three pages is the perfect number for breakthroughs to occur.

Record your stream of consciousness

As I point out in another blog, scribing your stream of consciousness is a brain dump. It helps get all the thoughts out of your head so that they stop pinballing around in there. Once you clear your mind of clutter, it’s easier to focus.

Why Morning Pages Are a Game Changer

Over at the Little Coffee Fox, Shelby shares how morning pages changed her life. It’s pretty powerful stuff:

I used to be constantly bogged down with procrastination, and all the demons that come with that curse. But the Morning Pages helped me climb out of that mindset and into a healthier, more productive one. While the Morning Pages weren’t a cure-all, they did serve as the catalyst to me turning into the exact type of person I’d always wanted to be.

Wow, amirite? Wow.

So, how can morning pages turn you and me into the people we want to be too?

Morning pages relieve stress and anxiety

Journaling is a proven stress-buster. No one really understands how it all works, but there are some theories that make a lot of sense:

  1. It’s like talking to a therapist. It’s an emotional release and it gives you a way to process your thoughts and feelings.
  2. All journals--and especially morning pages--are safe, private spaces where we can express our deepest secrets. Releasing those thoughts can be healing.
  3. By focussing on our thoughts, we actually quiet our minds, as we tune out the activity and distractions around us.

Morning pages give us the chance to reframe our personal narrative

Our lives are shaped by the way we tell our own stories, including the very words that we use. Just think about it. Almost every story can be told with a negative or positive slant. As we consistently churn out morning pages, we become more aware of how we tell our stories.

For example, let’s say that the barista got your order wrong yesterday. When you recount this in your morning pages, do you write that your day got off to a bad start and continued going downhill because you got the wrong cup of coffee? Or did you find pleasure in trying a new beverage? Recognizing how your own thoughts and stories shape your life can help you make important changes.

Morning pages help us overcome procrastination and increase productivity

Morning pages teach us that we don’t need to strive for perfection right out of the starting gate. Instead, they show us how to open the starting gate. And this important lesson applies to all facets of life. Once we see how easy it is to just get started on a project, we become inspired and galvanized for life in general.

Tips and Tricks
  1. Keep that pen moving! Cameron is fond of saying that there is no wrong way to write morning pages. It doesn’t matter what you write. Just keep writing.
  2. Write in a space that’s comfortable and conducive to focussed writing. Creating a space infused with hygge may be just the ticket.
  3. If you need to adjust Cameron’s guidelines a bit, do it. If you can’t literally roll out of bed and start writing, adjust that timeline. If you can’t write every day, that’s okay. And, in fact, writing every day can bog us down with rumination. The only rule you shouldn’t mess with is the one that requires you to hand write.
  4. You may find it easier to write freely--without attention to spelling, grammar, and neatness--if you write on a pad of paper. That way, pages can be easily removed and recycled. 
  5. Be mindful about how you’re framing your narrative. Try to keep your morning pages positive whenever possible.
  6. If you don’t find morning pages helpful, stop.
One Last Thought

If I haven’t convinced you to give morning pages a whirl, perhaps Julia Cameron’s own words can do the trick.

“It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action.”

Do you write morning pages on a regular basis? Have you seen the process impact other areas of your life? If you have, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop a comment below!

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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