Morning Pages

One year ago – after ten months of energetically marketing my novel – I followed The Artist’s Way, a twelve-week course in finding my way back to the page. Written by Julia Cameron, the book has become something of a bible for artistic types who want to work past all the blocks to creativity that we allow to get in our way.

The Artist’s Way started as a print book, but is now available in many formats, including an on-line course. Each week has a dedicated chapter that includes a series of exercises and tasks, such as collage-making and other non-language activities. One weekly assignment is the Artist Date – where you take yourself out for two hours to do something fun and different with your eyes and brain, like go to a museum. Honestly, in twelve weeks I never cut out pictures from a magazine and I never went on a single artist date. I never really got past lesson one: Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are the backbone of the program, which promotes creativity as “the natural order of life.” In truth, I’d already been practicing something like Morning Pages, ever since reading Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers, back in the eighties, when I taught writing. Also known as “automatic writing” – Morning Pages capture what Natalie Goldberg calls “Wild Mind” – writing as Zen practice.  To follow The Artists Way, I committed to filling three pages with my morning mind every day. Piece of cake.

After writing the morning pages, I tackled the weekly tasks that allowed me to continue to write. Just the practice of sitting at my desk first thing in the morning was helpful. Answering the questions gave me further insight into my fears and aspirations as a writer. Following The Artist’s Way for the full twelve weeks also allowed me to accept that I wasn’t going to do any of the non-verbal exercises this time around, nor was I going to make a single artist date. Learning to decide what was reasonable for me to do – and forgiving myself not being able to do it all – was an unintended consequence of the program. Maybe the next time I do The Artist’s Way I’ll add the art-based exercises. In the meanwhile, I’ve made Morning Pages a daily part of my writing practice. I almost always start the day with them, but even on days when I don’t – I get to them before the day is done.

Morning Pages are useful not only in helping me order my mind for the day, but they are a great tool for getting out of being stuck. Because Morning Pages allow for anything and everything to be splashed on the page – and because they are completely private and not for publication – they allow me to exorcise the obvious, saccharine, trite, sentimental, and/or stupid, until I stumble across the real and scary idea I want to say. Morning Pages both help me discover what needs to be articulated and give me the courage and clarity to do so.

Cameron says, “Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts.”

Twenty bucks will buy the book, some paper and a new pen. It’s a small investment that can yield surprising and satisfying results.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

25 thoughts on “Morning Pages

  1. I LOVE morning pages and have been away from them for TOO long. Thanks for the reminder. I could use all the brain un-cluttering I can get!
    😉

    • And I love this blog – because it’s full of reminders, tips an common-sense. So glad to be a part of it. Deborah.

  2. I read a book that Julia Cameron wrote called The Writing Diet. She mentioned morning pages, and I tried them and really liked them! It helped me in so many more ways than just writing. It kind of helped me get my life together, because I would write about what I needed to accomplish that day. When I finished writing, I was motivated enough to get off my butt and do what needed to be done everyday. It’s truly a strange feeling to mark everything off your list and then wonder what you are going to do for the rest of the day. I’ve been able to get a lot more reading done, which is always at the bottom of my list. The artist dates sound like a fantastic idea! Very attractive to me, but with a homeschooled seven-year-old, I don’t know how practical it is. I’ll have to try to work some in. Maybe even he can write a paragraph or so about the experience, but it would probably be more like once a month because I tend to feel guilty anytime we aren’t getting schoolwork done.

    • amyleebell,
      Homeschooling is such a huge undertaking! What an opportunity! Maybe you could teach your son to write morning pages? Imagine what it would be like to grow up with a practice like that. You might also want to look at Peter Elbow’s work about teaching writing.
      Thanks for writing – and good luck!
      Deborah

  3. I have long-loved both The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg’s teachings. I make use of both Cameron’s exercises and Natalie’s writing practice. Artist dates are really important because we all need play time and many busy people don’t get it — please let yourself take them — it’s only an hour or two a week and it will open up worlds for you.

    • thekalechronicles,
      Thanks for writing – and for the encouragement about artist dates. I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m learning how not to “should” all over myself.
      All best,
      Deborah.

  4. These are great recommendations. I try to do my own version of morning pages, but sometimes there is an underlying agenda. I get away from the zen of it, and when I do, I notice my writer’ voice begins to sound false.
    Being in the habit of practicing the process of letting go and letting WHATEVER flow through you is imperative. Thanks Deborah.

  5. What do you write about in your morning pages? I tried it for a week or so and it ended up as just a journal – I pretty much just detailed out what we did the day before. Maybe my mind is not ready to go into all sorts of creative territory the first thing in the morning?

    Are you basically journaling, or are you adding pages to a novel or something in your morning pages?

    • Heather,
      It doesn’t matter what you write in your morning pages – or whether you call it journaling, freewriting or Wild Mind. What’s important is showing up and moving your pen across the page (or fingers on the keyboard). Some days I write about what I did or what I have to do (including grocery lists and errands). And sometimes that’s all I write, and sometimes it morphs into an insight into a neurosis that one of my characters will achieve later in the morning. Best to just do it and not judge.
      Thanks for commenting on the post.
      Deborah.

  6. Deborah – Thanks so much for the extra information, I appreciate that. Tomorrow morning I will turn off my inner critic and just write!

  7. I bought the book a little while ago, and just never got started. I know it is a good practice, and this reminder just might be what I need to get going! Three pages of just writing . . .

    I think where I get stuck is trying to do it “right.” And that keeps me from just doing it! So, I’m giving myself permission to do it — no right, no wrong, just done.

  8. Erica,
    There is no “right way” – that’s the beauty. And it’s true as a writer, too. It’s just something you have to do.
    Thanks for writing – and good luck,
    Deborah.

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