What on earth are Morning Pages?
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes them as:
“Morning Pages are handwritten pages of approximately 750 words written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style in the morning as close to waking up as possible.”
So you’re thinking: Is this like journaling? Writing down your daily stuff is so boring. Is anyone going to be reading this? Would I need to censor this?
Well, there’s really no wrong way to do the Pages. These scratchings aren’t meant to be art or writing even. They’re not supposed to sound smart or clever. Doing Pages is the mere act of moving a pen across a page and writing whatever comes to mind, be it petty, silly, whiny, weird, self-pitying, fragmented, negative, babyish, angry, or what-have-you. No one other than you will ever know what you’ve written within the pages of your notebook. As M.C. Richards says, “Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance.” So you keep doing your Pages no matter what you write in your notebook.
What is so special about doing them in the morning?
We have all internalized this perfectionist, which Cameron calls the Censor, who critics our every move in life. Well, the Censor is there to criticize your Pages as well. So Cameron says, “By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor. Because there is no wrong way to write Morning Pages, the Censor’s opinion doesn’t count.”
Why in the world would I write these Pages?
For me, the Pages are like meditation. Pish-posh, you say. How can writing about the mundane be spiritual? Well, they’re a valid form of meditation because they serve as a soothing aid, something that grounds you in your day-to-day functioning. I have learned to write through angst to calm often enough to trust in this.
“The Pages give us insight and help us effect change in our lives,” according to Cameron. What I have found is that as a result of discussing things on paper and getting into the habit of doing this regularly, this free and expansive aspect of my personality that I’ve cultivated on the Pages comes out in other areas of my life.
It’s also a form of therapy. I can hear your snort of scorn. Bear me out. This is not directed therapy. It doesn’t work if you sit down with an agenda and force yourself to write about it. The discussions with your self have to surface organically. You come at the Pages from a negative standpoint and in writing your heart out, a solution may present itself or a coping mechanism.
Chekhov advised, “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.” In order to achieve anything in your life, you have to work on your life first. Similarly, Cameron says, “In order to have self-expression, you must have a self to express.” Writing as a meditative practice will help you find that self.
I have benefitted greatly from these Pages. They’ve become a part of my life — a way for me to celebrate the joys, come to terms with problems, and deal with grief. This year, brought with it all three, the last of which I could’ve done without, but the Pages got me through everything.
What if I am not a writer?
So far, you’ve been nodding along, agreeing with what I’ve written, but you now ask, “What if I am not a writer?” Well, you don’t have to be one. You can be a lawyer, a dancer, a painter, what-have-you. Picasso famously said, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” In fact, it’s writers who have the hardest time with these Pages, because they attempt to write them instead of merely doing them. There’s a difference. The former has an agenda, the latter is a free-form exercise where you let it all hang out.
In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives this insight about her writing: “This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the way, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration. It’ll never happen. If you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it.”
This holds true for Morning Pages also. There were some days at the beginning of my writing practice, where I would write, “I can’t think of anything” over and over again. And wouldn’t you know it? A few of those lines later, something would pop in my head. Our minds are always busy and if you let your control over your mind go, wonderful ideas bubble up from your sub consciousness.
Do you have to write them every day?
If you want to do the Pages you have to commit to doing them faithfully. You have to be all-in. The Pages are non-negotiable. Do not try to skimp or skip writing them. Whether or not you’re in the mood is irrelevant. The Pages have to be written, and in so doing, you will learn that you can write whether you’re angry, upset, sorrowful, depressed, ecstatic, tired, or downright bored.
Who would even care if I wrote them?
Over the years, I have been sharing my writing practice over Twitter with various friends. After I write, I tweet my friends that I have done them. Every once in a while, I’ll share a snippet or write about my notepaper or about my fountain pens. (Some days, it is ALL about the stationery.) Reporting in every day to a group of Pagers is fun. In addition to the companionship, those tweets have added the accountability that has been necessary for me to form this habit and keep me motivated.
And it is a habit that is so rewarding in your life. Like you take care of your body by brushing your teeth and showering, you do the Pages to take care of your mind. The “doing” is minimal effort to what the mind “experiences” as a result of your writing. So give yourself the gift of Paging.