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Morning pages: writing to unblock and guide creativity

Morning pages are nonsense, and no one but you will ever read them. Yet they're a surprisingly powerful tool for creativity.

By Sheryl GarrattPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
Morning Pages, and Julia Cameron's brilliant book. Photo by author.

I slept badly last night.

Bad dreams and hot flushes, noise in the street outside. So this morning I stagger groggily out of bed, feeling grumpy and out of sorts. I brush my teeth, drink a glass of water, do some stretches. Then I go make a coffee, sit down at the kitchen table and open my journal to do my morning pages.

‘I feel grumpy today, tired and grey,’ I write, noting down fragments of remembered dreams, and chores I need to do in town today while they’re passing through my head.

It’s a cold, windy day. I still need my thick winter jumpers, I note, but I also need to find a lighter jacket. I have a nagging feeling I left mine at the dry cleaners in the winter and never collected it.

There is food shopping to do, an important call to make before lunchtime, the car tax to sort. Looking out of the window to the wind-blown garden, I see that the grass needs cutting again and the magnolia needs pruning. I’m wondering whether to have eggs or porridge for breakfast.

There is no editing on these morning pages.

I’m in the middle of writing a book, and I’ve been stuck on one section for the last couple of days. It just doesn’t flow, and I’m not sure what I’m trying to say in it. In my journal, I write that maybe I’ll go for a walk instead of just staring at my screen, see if that helps. I have a debate on the page as to where to go, eventually deciding on the beach, because that way I’ll pass by the dry cleaner to ask after my jacket.

I’m worried about something my mum said on the phone last night. Looking forward to a trip we’re making this weekend. Both nervous and excited about a first meeting with an important new client next week. I’m thinking we should have pasta tonight instead of curry, and that I no longer like the picture hanging on the kitchen wall.

Then I try a new way of navigating through the tricky passage I’d been trying to write and suddenly it’s coming fluidly and easily, and I see how to make it work. Three pages have been filled, and my coffee cup is empty.

This morning brain dump takes around 30 minutes, depending on my mood. Sometimes it contains lovely little observations, memories or ideas. Very occasionally, it will produce a real flash of inspiration or clarity.

But mainly, it’s a mess of barely formed sentences mixed with to-do lists, repetitive gripes and grudges, random thoughts and an awful lot of phrases like ‘I have nothing whatsoever to say today’ — sometimes repeating for a whole page or more.

Morning pages are private.

No one else ever sees them. Even I rarely re-read them. The whole exercise often feels spectacularly pointless. And yet.. I’ve done this most mornings for nearly 20 years, and the day never goes quite as well if I skip it.

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advocates morning pages as a way of unblocking creativity, and then keeping creative juices flowing. It’s not just a tool for writers. In fact writers often really struggle with the idea of writing badly, without consideration for basic sentences and grammar, let alone structure.

It seems to work for pretty much anyone who practices it regularly, helping us clear out the sludge, reconnect with ourselves, and find out what we really want. Or what we don’t want.

One of my coaching clients once surprised herself one morning by writing, ‘I want a divorce.’ It was not something she’d ever even considered until then, but she realised as soon as she put it down on the page that it was true.

I’ve recommended morning pages to many creators over the years, and I know of several albums, a couple of novels, an acclaimed TV drama and radical new directions for artists that have come about as a result.

I’ve also had clients quit corporate jobs to start businesses that they’ve loved, sell up and go travelling, discover new hobbies and interests — all because of thoughts that initially spilled out onto their pages, then took root.

There are no right and wrong ways to do them.

Writing by hand seems to make them more effective. As does writing them as soon as possible after waking up, before your brain — and your inner critic — has really engaged. But if you have children to get to school, an early train to catch, or were up till late meeting a deadline, it’s not always possible to do them first thing. Catching up later, or just writing just a page or two instead of three doesn’t work as well, but it’s still useful.

For days like this, try using the writing prompts I’ve collected: get them for free using the form at the bottom of this page.

Julia Cameron believes that morning pages should be done absolutely every day. In this, I disagree. Sometimes I’ll wake up ready to get to work straight away, and I’ll go up to my study to begin rather than letting the pages get in the way.

But those days are rare. Mostly, I find this daily practice of just scribbling down thoughts — without editing, without pressure, without worrying what anyone will think — helps enormously.

Over time, my morning pages have acted like a compass. They tell me the direction I need to go in, and pull me back when I’ve wandered the wrong way. This morning they eventually reminded me that I did, after all, collect my jacket from the cleaners. It was hanging in a forgotten cupboard, still in its protective wrapper. I wore it to walk to the beach.

goals

About the Creator

Sheryl Garratt

Sheryl Garratt is a former editor of The Face and Observer magazines, and has written professionally for more than 30 years. She is also a coach working with creatives of all kinds. Find her at thecreativelife.net

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    Sheryl GarrattWritten by Sheryl Garratt

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