What are 'morning pages', and how can we make the most of their wellbeing magic by doing this activity every day?
Many of us know the wellbeing benefits of writing, whether it’s creating a gratitude list each week or penning poetry that explores our experiences. Morning pages is an activity that involves writing three pages of stream of consciousness in longhand, first thing each morning. This, according to its inventor, Julia Cameron, can help us think through problems and improve our creativity.
Cameron outlines ‘morning pages’ in her 1992 book, The Artist’s Way, where she explores how we can discover and recover our creative selves. She recommends morning pages as a tool to help overcome creative blocks. And it’s not just for artists: boosting creativity can help us to problem solve in all areas of our lives, making it a worthwhile exercise for everyone.
As a writer, I was curious about trying morning pages. I’ve seen others talk about how they find it useful, and wondered whether it would help me feel more energised to write creatively each day. So I decided to give it a go.
The wellbeing benefits of morning pages
I asked counsellor Jenny Warwick for her insights into how morning pages can support our mental health and wellbeing.
“It gives you the chance to think about, and state, what’s going on for you,” she tells me. “It’s an opportunity to put down literally whatever is at the top of your head without fear of judgement. You can get those thoughts out onto paper and clear them from your mind, so that you can start the day fresh. You may well be surprised at what comes up as a result.
“While it may be tricky initially, it may give you some insight into what’s actually going on in your head, which is surely worth doing for your mental health and wellbeing.”
By writing morning pages every day, we can, Julia Cameron says, work through problems. “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-of solutions,” she writes in The Artist’s Way.
Morning pages, of course, are written first thing. Which Jenny explains gives you the chance to put your thoughts down on paper before the rest of your daily stuff gets in the way.
“It’s time that you are making specifically for you, and you alone,” she adds. “It’s before the day has gotten in the way of what’s going on in your head. Your mind has been working overnight to process the previous day and is fresh. You could catch some insights as a result of this processing before you start your new day.”
Morning pages involves writing whatever comes to us, without worrying about spelling and grammar, or what other people will think. This, Jenny explains, allows us to pour our thoughts out as they are beginning to take form, knowing that no one else is going to read them. “This means you can tap into thoughts and feelings you might not even realise or recognise that you had, which would be really valuable to know,” says Jenny. “You might even surprise yourself with what you put down.”
Giving it a go
I got out of bed earlier than usual – and felt a little grumpy about it, I have to say. Still in my pyjamas, I sat at my desk and got out an A4 notebook and a pen, ready to write my morning pages.
At first, I struggled to know what to put. I’m giving this morning pages thing a try, I noted down. Maybe it’ll be a helpful experience. After writing a few lines like this, I started to find the words got going more easily.
“There is no wrong way to do morning pages,” Julia Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way. “Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.”
To start, I found my familiar inner critic complaining about my writing, how dull and silly it was. But a few days into trying morning pages, I found this critical voice was dimmed. After a couple of weeks of doing this daily, I noticed themes emerge. Often I write about what’s been bothering me recently, or my plans for the day.
One of the challenges I’ve experienced when writing morning pages is hitting a block while I write. Julia Cameron suggests that, if you’re stuck, you should write “I can’t think of anything to write” as many times as you need – even filling the full three pages with it if necessary. Sometimes, I find myself writing these words but, eventually, I get past that stage and write my own.
An important aspect of morning pages is that they should be written by hand, rather than typing. “Just by holding a pen or pencil in your hand, feeling the paper underneath really helps you be mindful and in the present moment,” explains Jenny. She advises that writing longhand also helps us avoid picking up our phone or using other technology first thing.
Jenny advises that it takes time to establish a new habit like writing morning pages each day, so be kind to yourself if you struggle to get into it. She cites the benefits that having a routine can have for our wellbeing, and setting aside time each day that’s just for us.
I’m not a natural morning person, and so found the idea of writing morning pages as soon as I rolled out of bed a bit daunting. I also had to resist the urge to log onto my laptop and get going with the day, the sense of my ‘to do’ list hanging over me. But I’ve found that crafting out time for morning pages at the start of each day has felt like a way of making time for myself before I get stuck into work.
Some days, the writing feels forced or trivial, but sometimes I’m surprised by the unexpected connections I make on the page. It’s also helped me feel more able to focus on my other writing during the day, having spilt out my worries in my morning pages already.
So, all in all, I’m planning to keep going with my morning pages – even if it does mean setting my alarm a little earlier than I’m used to.
If you need support for your mental health, visit the Counselling Directory to connect with a professional.