By: Noelle Sterne
As you may know if you’re a Julia Cameron fan, her mission in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity is to help creative people, especially writers, create again. A basic strategy of her program is the Morning Pages (MP). What are they? Three handwritten pages every morning about anything. On paper, you can whine, complain, lament, grouse, rage, argue, muse, recall, record, praise . . . even try out some story or novel ideas.
At first jot, Cameron’s description and advice on doing the MP seem like all those timeworn platitudes about keeping journals. But the MP are different. They jumpstart our inventive engines so we can reach the cruising speed of regular writing.
Why Do the Morning Pages?
1. The MP combat "the Censor," that ubiquitous inner shrew (p. 12). Even if we have a list of works longer than Mozart's, the Censor endlessly harangues that we never do enough or well enough. The MP get all that spewing out of our system.
2. The MP feed our "inner child" (p. 12), that twinkly part of us imprisoned by parents, religion, school, and society, and giggling to get out. In them, we can imagine, reminisce, fantasize, weep for favorite dolls or long-gone best friends, make jokes about fat Thanksgiving uncles or ourselves.
3. The MP get us to the other side "of our fear, of our negativity, of our moods." We can seethe in self-righteousness, erect intricate rationales, admit our dreads, and succumb, on paper, to our depressions.
4. As we faithfully do the MP, eventually this is where "we find our own quiet center" and our own triumphant voice (p. 12).
With Cameron's excellent reasons, I've discovered a few others:
5. The Morning Pages, despite their generally dubious quality (for me, at least), count as writing. Yes, the day whizzes by with jobs, kids, partners, laundry, dental appointments, and all the other relentless to-dos. But you've written something besides a list of groceries or car problems.
6. Keeping this daily promise to yourself, you feel like a serious, committed writer. That always feels good.
7. If you must fault your writing, you can at least stop flogging yourself for not writing at all.
8. The MP give you an ongoing record of progress. Label your files or notebooks of them by the year or quarter and stack them on a bookshelf or in a cabinet. Survey your production proudly.
When Do the Morning Pages?
In the beginning, I felt like an irrevocable sinner. But soon, I discovered that doing the MP at times other than the morning has distinct advantages. Later in the day, they’re the cathartic receptacle of the day’s pettinesses and redundant gripes against those closest and most annoying. They’re the unjudging accepters of ceaseless self-justifications. Occasionally too, they're the testimony to small, significant victories ("Did 15 minutes on this piece today!").
How Do the Morning Pages?
So, I developed ways to keep the MP working, whatever the time:
1. Plunk paper and pens everywhere—main writing area, kitchen, night table, bathroom, briefcase, tote, car seat.
2. Use waiting time anywhere for entries, even if you don’t finish in a single stint.
3. Complete the day’s MP whenever you next can, as long as it’s before midnight.
4. Do the MP neatly or messily; it doesn’t matter whether you’ll be able to read them later. The point is to keep the habit.
5. If you feel absolutely blank, just keep writing, “Have nothing to write.” Soon you will.
6. Keep doing the Pages. Keep doing the Pages.
Miss Doing the Morning Pages?
First, forgive yourself.
And second, take corrective steps. Set the clock, plaster signs all over the house, beg help from a significant other. Most crucial, jump back on the horse and kick the pen into a gallop, whatever the hour.
* * * * * *
As many others have attested, the MP revived my thinking and living like a writer. They helped resurrect my lifelong goal from the mountainous ashes of decades-long distractions and supposedly irrefutable justifications. They teased me into working on stalled projects. And—two years after starting the MP, after years of rejections, I published my first essay!
So, take up the Morning Pages whenever you choose—indulgent brunch, high tea, or vampire dawn. Like me, you'll notice you're less afraid, you’re growing ideas, and you’re picking up and playing with unfinished work. You’re even feeling spurts of hope. Greatest miracle, you're giving yourself the delicious practice of regular writing.
Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. is a counselor, spiritual coach and noted author.
She pens a monthly column at Coffeehouse for Writers blog.