Morning pages, a concept described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, are a daily practice intended to unleash people’s creativity. Any people, in fact, not just writers. But for writers, in particular, this stream-of-consciousness, free-writing exercise can be a real game changer — helping you build a healthy writing routine.
Since Julia Cameron published her book in 1992, her morning pages have become so popular that you’ll find BuzzFeed articles about the exercise. Even writers who haven’t heard the term “morning pages” may have done a similar exercise as part of a writing seminar.
The idea is that with daily practice, you can get in touch with your creativity and build confidence. Let’s look at how to do morning pages and how they can help your writing practice.
1. Write first thing every morning
Every morning, ideally before you do anything else, sit down and write your morning pages. Your mind is full of yesterday’s detritus and last night’s dreams. The morning pages are meant to clear your mind, so you are entirely open to the day’s creative practice.
2. Find comfort and privacy
Sit somewhere comfortable. You may want to sit away from your regular writing space, where your mind is likely to be telling you to “get things done” or even offering helpful suggestions on sentence or fiction craft. Prop yourself up on a pillow on the couch. Make sure you won’t be disturbed. Now go ahead and write.
3. Write three pages longhand in a notebook
Morning pages revel in analog tools. Computers and the other devices we may use to write are full of distractions (messages, emails, popups, tempting apps, etc.). So, treat your morning pages as a separate space where you write three pages by hand in a notebook specifically dedicated to the task. If you are unable to use your hands, and you usually write by dictating, then that’s how you should do your morning pages, too.
There are also some scientific studies that suggest writing longhand may be beneficial for the brain and creativity, encouraging that feeling of “flow” more than when we type. Apparently, it increases neural activity in the brain similarly to meditation (see this paywalled WSJ article).
Find notebooks of similar size and feel, so it becomes as familiar as the rest of your routine. And a word of advice: You’re going to fill up many notebooks. Save your expensive Moleskine or LEUCHTTURM1917 notebooks, or else increase your stationery budget accordingly.
4. Don’t pick a topic
Often, free-writing follows an exercise or writing prompt. Morning pages are the antithesis to prompts. Don’t sit down with an intention other than to open yourself. Don’t describe a specific dream or fiddle with an anxiety you’ve been wanting to untangle. If any of these elements come up naturally, that’s fine. But avoid sitting down with a task in mind.
5. Don’t worry
Like many other free-writing exercises, morning pages are not about perfection. They’re not even about coherence. Forget writing rules, including grammar. The idea is to break down the critical or self-doubting barrier between your creativity and the page. You’re putting your raw self onto the page. With practice, you should get into a flow where you forget the world around you as your thoughts pour out.
6. To reread or not?
Morning pages are purely about the moment of connecting your inner creativity with the page. So, even though you keep the result in a journal, the point is not to revisit the morning pages. But as a writer, you may discover that your unconscious has let loose some interesting images or sentences. However, the risk is that if you trawl your morning pages for good material, you may begin to think critically as you write in the mornings.
Here’s my suggestion: When you are starting out, resist the urge to reread. Just write. Then, after you’ve established a routine over a couple of weeks, take a peek at your journal. Copy any passages you like into another journal. Has this hunting for good passages affected your morning pages? If the answer is no, go ahead continue to write and then, a couple of days or weeks later, you can revisit the journal. If you sense resistance or self-criticism building, stop. Protect your morning pages.
And, of course, don’t let anybody else read your morning pages, either.
7. Stick to the daily practice
The benefits of morning pages come over time. You may feel that magical flow the very first morning. Or it may take days or weeks before you can access your raw emotions and pour them straight onto the page.
But over time, you should see an effect on your wellbeing. It acts as a form of morning meditation. You may feel calmer, more centered as you move ahead with your day.
Yeah, yeah, you say. But what about my “real” writing?
Here’s the deal. Morning pages build your ability to offer up your inner self without restriction. Combining this skill with your drafting skills can result in a powerful ability to silence your inner critic and put the most creative version of your imagination onto the page before that pesky critic in your head interferes.
For some writers, the mere act of committing to writing every day can build the habit of writing. If you’re pressed for time, you could consider transitioning from morning pages to a free-write (see below) and then, finally, to your daily novel or short story writing.
An alternative to morning pages: the morning free-write
Julia Cameron assures us that with morning pages, there’s no right or wrong:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”– Julia Cameron
With that in mind, I’d suggest that the writer who’s not interested in establishing the meditative practice of morning pages, should consider a daily morning free-write instead. Apply the same principles above, except in this case you can — and should — pick a topic. Find a writing prompt the night before your morning free-write, so you’re ready to write.
Here are some writing prompts for a morning free-write:
Fill three pages of longhand describing a situation in which…
- A person steals another person’s shoes.
- A non-believer is stuck in a room with only a holy book to read.
- A person shopping recognizes another shopper’s face, but can’t remember who that person is.
- The cake at a wedding melts away.
- A person wakes up in the morning and discovers they have a tattoo — but no recollection of getting it.