Several times, over the years, I’ve come across the writing exercise known as Morning Pages, which involves filling three sides of paper with words, stream of consciousness-style, first thing every day.
I’ve never been tempted. As a journalist, I hate writing exercises: why do extra work nobody’ll ever see? Besides, Morning Pages were invented in the new age hub of Taos, New Mexico, by the creativity guru Julia Cameron, who writes sentences such as, “As we move towards our dreams, we move towards our divinity.” But this summer I read three articles that suggested the exercise was catching on with business types, too. T
Then a friend, no new ager, revealed that she swore by them. I decided this must be a message from my Guardian Angel about my Soul’s Destiny, or something, and plunged in. Now I wish I’d started long ago.
“There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages,” Cameron writes. (She introduced the practice in 1992, in The Artist’s Way, but summarises it in a recent e-book, The Miracle Of Morning Pages.) She means you can write about whatever’s on your mind: petty worries, soaring plans, angry tirades. When it comes to the how, she’s strict.
The pages must be done first thing: “You’re trying to catch yourself before your ego’s defences are in place.” They must be longhand. And you must fill exactly three sides of US Letter paper (A4 is close enough). That three-sides rule is key: on an uninspired day, you might start writing banalities, but if you keep going, having dusted the cobwebs away, you might find breakthroughs occur.
“It turns out you can’t really write about nothing for three whole pages,” my friend says. Or, as Cameron writes: “The second page-and-a-half comes harder, but often contains paydirt.” Equally, after three pages, you must stop, to avoid “self-involvement and narcissism”. Brain-sweep complete, it’s time to get on with the day.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at how powerful Morning Pages proved, from day one, at calming anxieties, producing insights and resolving dilemmas. After all, the psychological benefits of externalising thoughts via journalling are well-established. And that bleary-eyed morning time has been shown to be associated with more creative thinking: with the brain’s inhibitory processes still weak, “A-ha” moments come more readily.
Crucially, Morning Pages are private. If you need to destroy them to ensure that, go ahead: it’s more important than keeping them for reference. Not because you’ll necessarily pour out secrets there, but because it’s liberating to know you could. It’s why good therapists work hard to create a “secure frame”, right down to making sure no one can peer in the window. And why, in her book The Rise, historian Sarah Lewis stresses the importance of “private domains” in the lives of great creative figures: rooms of their own where they could bring their work into the world, externalising it without sharing it. Morning Pages create a metaphorical private domain – one so valuable, I find it hard to imagine I’ll ever stop. Are they helping me “move towards my divinity”? God knows.