On Morning Pages


Joyce asked about morning pages. Turns out I’m feeling chatty this morning. So.

Despite some big differences in goal and method, I think of morning pages as a focussed subset of journalling, so I believe there’s considerable overlap in how to build each into a habit.

I’ve been journalling fairly consistently for about twenty years (and sporadically for some years before that). From late 1999 to early 2004, I exclusively used an ongoing Tex-Edit Plus document on my Mac. In 2004, I transitioned over to a notebook & pen/pencil, and I’ve been all-longhand ever since.

About four or five years ago (right around the time I first learned of morning pages, actually), I split it into morning page “journaling” with a “logbook” in the evenings. I started the “logbook” because I was getting frustrated that my journal entries were often derailed by dwelling too much on all sorts of daily “surface” things (what I ate, what I did, where I went). Instead of seeing the daily stuff as a distraction from writing about the “important” things, I honored it by giving it a separate braindump all to itself.

This gave me permission to skip over all that quotidian stuff as I journalled, and to move onto the next “layer” down – opinions, impressions, preoccupations, fears, rants, etc.

The therapeutic aspect of morning pages is at least partly about giving those “inner characters” of your psyche – the ones with the uncomfortable, unpopular, or fragile opinions – a chance to have their say in a safe, contained space. This can be very hard, and the “rest” of you may put up a lot of resistance — like wanting to give up simply because you “can’t” make it to three pages, or your handwriting is too “ugly,” or any of a million other excuses…

If you find you’re faced with a lot of internal resistance, Julia Cameron, of the Artist’s Way, suggests deleting the document or shredding the pages right after you finish writing. That way, you have an ironclad retort to the inner voice that’s so peevish about spelling and handwriting, and to the inner voice that’s worried that anyone will see your horrible terrible shameful thoughts.

I try to be very forgiving of the “rules.” The original Artist’s Way morning pages are supposed to be three pages, longhand, period. Well, sure. But as Robertson Davies says, “Forgive yourself for being a human creature.”

Habits are often built from whatever’s already convenient and easily available (that’s why most habits are “bad” habits). So if an iPad keyboard is more convenient than a moleskine and a pen, then okay. And if you find you have a 10- or 20-minute block of time right before bed rather than in the morning, then go for it. If you don’t always write three whole pages, that’s okay, too.

Make it your own, let it be what it needs to be, rather than what you’ve been told it’s supposed to be.

If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.