I often find myself stressing over to-do lists. I’m constantly wishing there were more hours in the day. But, when I break down my projects into parts and start, I spend more time trying to figure out how to do what I want to do than just…doing it. Like with writing. I never seem to have enough time to get a chapter or short story written. At the rate I go, it will take much longer than I’d like to finish my novel or perfect a short for submission. It’s like the stress of the to-do list, the exhaustion of constantly carrying the weight of all I have to do, blocks me from actually getting anything done.
Or, at least, it used to feel that way. Then, I discovered a little secret to clearing my head and getting stuff done: Morning Pages.
Morning Pages is a concept taken from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. In it, she explains that the goal is to sit down first thing in the morning and write three pages by hand (not computer). Three pages. No more, no less. By writing, you clear your head of the negativity and junk that comes with being an adult, and you reconnect with the child within, the creative nature you possess. So, the premise is, if you make a habit of writing three pages every morning, you’ll clear yourself up to “be.” To do what you are made to do without the mechanisms we, as adults, have succumbed to that inhibit us.
Let me just inject here that I wasn’t “all in” when I decided to do this. My entire adult (and part of my childhood) life, I’ve tried keeping a journal. Especially since becoming an artist and writer. I’d buy a new journal and start with the best of intentions, only to let life and a lack of anything to say cut me off. Or, I’d get overwhelmed with the negativity I found in the pages and think that I was cultivating a negative lifestyle by writing it. Or I’d just get plain lazy. I even tried keeping a journal with smaller pages and a goal to write just one page daily. I failed miserably.
So, when I started considering this concept of Morning Pages, I didn’t think it would work for me. Not only that, I didn’t see how it would help my creativity or writing at all. Plus, at the time I was starting this journey, I’d just had surgery on my dominant hand/wrist. How was I supposed to free hand three pages each day when I could barely hold a pen? I had every reason to chunk Cameron’s book across the room and get back to my normal. But I was exhausted with my normal. I was sick of what my normal was creating in me: an apathy for life and a wandering existence without hope or focus toward anything. And most importantly, a lack of belief in myself.
So, I decided to give this Morning Pages thing a trial run. I committed to writing every day for thirty days. I planned to reassess, at that time, and decide if I was getting anything out of it. And, if I wasn’t, I could then chunk the book across the room and move on. But, if I was going to try this, I knew I’d have to create a few guidelines for it:
1. I gave myself freedom to be messy. Beyond the fact that I had an injured hand, I’d often struggled with journals because of my perfectionism. I wanted them to be neat, with beautiful penmanship and nary a scribbled-out section. This time, I told myself that mess was okay, that it didn’t even matter if my hand writing was illegible to me. The goal was getting words out, not making them a work of art.
2. I gave myself permission to write about nothing. I’ve always wanted my journals to be these profound sources of information. Like, when I die, someone would find them and they’d become these artifacts in a museum. But I’m not George Washington, and nobody needs to see these. In fact, Cameron encourages that you don’t even read your pages, at first. Because in the beginning, you are getting rid of the junk holding you back. If you read that too soon, all you’ll see is how NONE of what you’re writing is helpful. So, I told myself that, if all I had to say was how tired I was over and over again, so be it. If the pages turned into a gripe session about my life, who cares. I was getting out whatever I needed to process to move on and be productive. Not even I have a right to judge what that looks like.
3. I gave myself latitude with the “Morning” part of the habit. I’m not a morning person. My best self is around 9pm at night! And I currently have a job that requires I be up around 5am and, sometimes, has me going at full speed the moment I step through the doors. Because of this, there are days when I can’t even think about a journal, let alone write in one, until later in the day. So, I told myself that the goal would be first thing in the morning, but, as long as I finished before bed, it was okay. It was the habit of just writing I was looking to create, not another task I’d beat myself up for if I didn’t do it by the letter.
4. I gave myself permission to not write in a day. This one, I kept with restrictions. I had a string of three days where I struggled with a migraine and just couldn’t do anything. So, I told myself it was okay that I didn’t write those days. Normally, this breaking of a goal would have made me berate myself, and that constant bashing would have led me to guilt and self-shaming. Instead, I gave myself grace. But I did so knowing that this grace and permission to not write was the exception, not the rule.
With these guidelines in place, I set to work. I wrote, jumping from topic to topic without line break or transition. I wrote free-style, penning whatever popped into my head. Some days, it looked like “I hate this stupid journal and Cameron is a moron. I have absolutely nothing to say.” Other days, it was reveling in something amazing that happened. Much of the time, it was a self-pity trip about whatever was causing me pain.
I wrote on, anyway.
Then, something shifted. I started writing about my hopes. I started hashing out concepts or ideas I had for a story, things that were not working, things that I needed to think through in order to create. I started telling myself I could do this. I started pointing out the good within me and my projects. Sure, there were still moments when I went on negative binges, but, more and more, these entries contained sparks of inspiration.
And I filled an entire journal. Still, I kept on writing.
And, here’s what I noticed about the rest of my life: I was becoming more creative. I wanted to write. I broke through stagnant moments, and I found how to plow through plot points giving me heartache.
I became a productive writer.
Nothing else in my schedule changed. In fact, if anything, life became more hectic. But the practice of creating became easier and a higher priority.
It didn’t just help with my writing, either. I’m beginning to see the effects of Morning Pages in other aspects of life. I’m not weighed down by things as easily. I’m seeing ways to improve relationships and be more productive at work. I’m becoming more confident in who I am and what I have to give this world.
Coming from a type-A personality who makes lists of lists, who would have thought that the one thing to increase my productivity most would be something chaotic and, seemingly, unproductive? Yet, it was just what the doctor ordered.