Are you feeling stuck anywhere in your life?
Like you’re in a rut, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it’ll take to pull you out of it? Or maybe you know what it’ll take, but you’re just not sure whether you’re ready to actually do it.
Or maybe you just want MORE: a more abundant, richer, fulfilled experience (or heck, even more money and more stuff).
I know it might sound pretty crazy, but I have a great tool for you. And it’s basically free (although you do need a pen and a notebook … or your computer).
That tool is morning pages.
What are Morning Pages?
The writer Julia Cameron first came up with the idea of morning pages in her classic book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, as a way for people to unlock their creativity and find their voice.
But I was writing morning pages way before I first heard about them … as far back as the 70s. Basically, all you do is get up first thing in the morning and – before you’re fully awake – start writing. Preferably three notebook pages worth, nonstop (there’s a reason three pages is the sweet spot for results. I’ll explain in a bit).
Now, if you’re me, the first thing you have to do when you wake up (before you can start writing) is deal with hungry pets who also need to go do their business outside. Also, there’s coffee to make.
But as soon as possible, I like to sit down and write.
Well, let’s be honest.
Sometimes I don’t “like” it. Sometimes I’d rather poke around on Facebook, get caught up on the news, or stare out the window. However, the times in my life I’ve been consistent with my morning pages, I’ve felt clearer, more focused, and generally on-target.
There’s something about writing before you’re fully awake, before you’ve turned on your internal editor or raised your invisible “wall” against the world, that helps you connect with your inner compass or internal radar.
And your compass/radar is super important to help you uncover where you want to go, and your unique path to getting there. It’s also one of the first things we tend to squelch in order to “get along” in life.
What if Your Mornings are Too Busy?
If you have kids, a family, early-morning clients, etc., sometimes you just can’t find early time to write.
I am not going to tell you to get up earlier. Because sleeping is awesome.
You actually can write your pages any time of the day, but it’s good to set a schedule. And on mornings when you CAN write them, try to bang ’em out early and get them done because your internal editor is less mouthy in the morning. It takes longer to shut it up later in the day.
Morning Pages Helped Me Get Through:
- a super lonely time when I lived overseas, a time when everyone thought I should have been oh! so! happy! (my morning pages helped me realize I actually had legitimate reasons not to be oh-so-happy, and to have the guts to do something about it)
- taking care of my terminally ill mom (so many amazing moments, so many hard-but-worth-it lessons)
- a divorce
- training for a triathlon that was way out of my comfort zone
- getting ready for a figure show (that diet, though)
- figuring out who I want to be when I grow up (i.e., entering a new decade of life)
- and so much more
But sometimes, I write them just to write them, not because of something I’m trying to “get through” or figure out. In fact, that may be when they are of most value.
How to Write Morning Pages
There’s really no right or wrong way to write morning pages.
That being said, a lot of people freeze up as soon as they think they have to write something – their writing voice gets formal, and they edit themselves before they even begin to write. (That’s one of the beauties of writing first thing in the morning.)
But here’s the thing with these pages: No one is going to grade them. No one is even going to see them! So you won’t pass or fail a class because they suck, because there’s no way they CAN suck.
You could write the word “blue” over and over again for three solid pages and voila! morning pages done!
Seriously: there’s no idea that’s too crazy to write about, and you don’t have to worry about being politically or socially correct. You just write.
All you’re doing is emptying your brain onto a piece of paper. And if you’re not sure how to write morning pages when you first start – how to actually get going – you can check out my prompts below.
Three Pages for the Win
Here’s why I think three pages is the magic number:
- On page 1, you’re just warming up. You might even write about how you don’t want to write and how it’s stupid.
- On page 2, you’re starting to get into the groove. You’re still a little formal though, because you’re trying too hard. This is where it can get a little academic and you might sound like you’re trying to please your picky sophomore English teacher.
- But on page 3, your defenses are worn down. You’re finally looking at the end of the final page, and you let loose, and often that’s when you find a little nugget that helps you get clear on a problem you might be having or a question you’ve been wondering about. Or maybe you discover some random thing that makes you go, “wow!”
But even if it doesn’t come together, so what? Sometimes it’s like that.
In the words of Julia Cameron herself:
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.
Maybe There are Rules, After All
Years ago I loved the classic writing books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. She is a Buddhist and her form of meditation is writing. She fills notebooks, entire pages from top to bottom, margin to margin.
Here are some rules she offered in Writing Down the Bones:
- Keep your hand moving.
- Don’t cross out.
- Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar.
- Lose control.
- Don’t think.
- Go for the jugular.
Here’s a Little Caveat
There have been a few times when writing morning pages definitely has NOT worked for me. In fact, I’ve gone on hiatus from them at those times.
Because the writing turned into amplified worrying … turning the same issues over and over, reinforcing the problems or issues I was trying to solve.
It happened when I was burned out, overtired, not feeling well, or just emotionally done-in. In fact, I took a lengthy break when I was picking up the pieces of my life, after my mom died and my divorce. I was emotionally spent. Although looking back, I think maybe continuing to write would have helped me stay focused on feeling better, rather than diving full-force into my business.
At those points, my writing just became a rehash of the frustrations of the day before.
Or, I’d wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, but as soon as I started writing, all the old crap would start bubbling to the surface and leave me feeling tired and defeated.
So I took a hiatus so I could break those negative thought patterns. And when I felt ready, I restarted.
Not sure how to get started? Check out these writing prompts.
17 Writing Prompts for Morning Pages
When using any of these prompts, start by writing the phrase, and then keep going until you can’t think of anything else to write. Then write the phrase again, with a new thought to finish it out.
“I feel strong when I can carry all my grocery bags into the house in one trip. It’s a good feeling and I like knowing I can take care of myself like that. I feel strong when I can actually pay for my groceries now without even thinking about it when I run my debit card. I remember a couple years ago when that wasn’t the case. But now I don’t even think about it. I feel strong knowing that I’m setting a good example for my daughter …”
But like I said: there are no rules, so if you want to use the prompts a different way, have at it!
Writing Prompts for Morning Pages
- I feel strong when …
- When I work out I feel …
- I love it when …
- I hate it when …
- The last time I …
- When I get up in the morning,
- Next time I go on vacation, I …
- If I had to change one thing, it would be …
- My favorite number (color, season, etc.) is … because …
- Right now outside my window,
- The last time I saw xxx ….
- I miss xxx because …
- If I could do anything, I’d …
- X is my hero because …
- When I was a kid …
- Next year I want to …
- If I could grant wishes, I would …
What About All Those Journals?
So: what happens with the pages after you’ve written them?
Should you keep your filled journals? Or should you throw them out? (Funny note: When I was a newspaper editor, my colleagues and I would always joke: NEVER KEEP A JOURNAL. Because it was shocking how often journals came up as evidence in court cases.)
That’s up to you. I have kept a lot of my journals, and I plan to go back and look at them now, and decide their fate.
That being said, I don’t recommend immediately rereading what you’ve written, unless there’s a compelling reason. It’s better to let them sit until time has passed – they will be an interesting record of your life, thoughts, and ideas.
But if you live in a situation where you’re not sure whether your recorded thoughts are safe, throw them away. The simple act of writing them is enough in itself.
It’s up to you. Go with your gut.
And get writing!