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morning pages

November 13, 2009

Almost 14 years ago, Spouse bought for me The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, in response to my repeated assertions that I had a mental block about doing anything art-like. I read the book, and liked a lot of Cameron’s ideas, but somehow never got started with the process. I couldn’t bring myself to purge it from my library. Periodically, I re-read it, and wondered if there’d ever be a good time for me to use it.

On my birthday in 2008, I took the plunge and began the process outlined in the book. The best part of the process for me (and the only part I’m doing with regularity) is morning pages. I get up in the morning, put the coffee on, sit down with pen and notebook in hand, start writing and … magic happens.

I’m not a morning person, so I’ve written them anytime between 5:30 and noon-ish, depending on when I get up, and what other activities fill my days. But on days that I can’t make room for them, I feel slightly off-balance and muzzy-headed. Focus is harder to come by. So it’s absolutely worth taking the time and making the effort to do it every day. And now I just regret that I didn’t start the process in 1996. Or at least, some time sooner than 2008.

Cameron insists that you can’t do the process by typing away on a keyboard; you must write longhand, but the paper can be loose-leaf, or a notebook, journal, or anything you like. I’ve used a journal, a sketchbook, then moved to composition notebooks (less expensive, and I can get them at the supermarket if need be). I’m currently on the eighth one – each one contains 6-8 weeks’ worth of writing.

You write three pages of whatever’s going on in your mind. Initially I worried that what was in my mind would be boring and a waste of time, but it’s not turned out that way at all. In fact, writing morning pages allows me to tap into my subconscious mind and use both right-brained and left-brained means of accessing knowledge, feelings, dreams, thoughts I didn’t know I had, teasing out implications => amazing insights. And then I have a record of not just the end result, but the process of getting there.

I re-read them occasionally to remind myself of where I was and what I didn’t know yet, but also to refresh myself on insights I’ve forgotten I discovered. The data mining possibilities seem infinite.

I’d historically sometimes kept a journal for a while, but would always trail off at some point. I felt like my “everyday writing voice” was either too pedestrian and boring, or too self-conscious about trying to say something amazing. Iow, I got in my own way, or I tried too hard. But something about the morning pages process bypasses all of that. Even when I write about everyday concerns, my thoughts meander in odd directions, and I always learn something unexpected. It’s a safe place to explore ideas I’m not comfortable sharing with others. And ultimately, it’s a way for me to tune into and honor my own voice. To figure out what matters most to me. To make a hallowed space for only me.  The process has shown me that I have things worth saying, even if they’ll be heard by an audience of one.

Anyway, you never really know what ripples your actions make downstream: who hears you, whose life is influenced by yours, who is inspired by something you do…

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