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Morning Pages – Frequently Asked Questions

This is a post for Week One of the Julia Cameron book, Walking in this World. Join us as we complete this 12 week program together. You can read all the details here.

If anything in Walking in this World or The Artist’s Way draws resistance, it’s Morning Pages.

Go ahead and whine — I’ll give you a minute.

Done? Now that you’ve got that out of your system, let’s talk about why Morning Pages are essential and how to make them both doable and bearable.

First I’d like to say this: Morning Pages are journaling, pure and simple. You must like some aspect of journaling or you wouldn’t be here, right? If it helps to see MP as journaling, use that terminology. Don’t get confused by Cameron’s word choice.

Now I live in the same world that you do, and I know it’s not Julia’s fairy tale life (think she minds me jumping straight to first-name-basis?). She doesn’t have a day job, or small children, or a spouse. So her particular brand of dedication may not fit into your life.

I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t matter. Do the best you can with what you’ve got, honoring the spirit of the exercise, okay? Don’t get all perfectionist on me and say you bailed because you could only find time to write two pages, not the required three.

If you’re just joining the party, you’ll learn quickly that I have Opinions. I like people with Opinions — even those different than mine. 😉 I’m always open to a friendly debate. For some questions, I’ve provided Julia’s answer (based on the books), and added my own two cents.

I don’t wish to deviate from the spirit of the book. But in some places, a gentle bending of the rules may be necessary. I’d rather see you do what you can than not do it at all.

Okay on to the questions!

Morning Pages FAQ

Do I have to do them by hand?

Julia’s answer: Yes. Period.

My answer: Yes. Unless you have a disability that prevents you from writing for 20 minutes comfortably. Or you are in an unsafe situation that prevents you from guaranteeing your own privacy.

I know you can’t spell and it takes too long and you hate your handwriting. But this post will help you get over that (and any other flimsy excuses you can come up with).

And one of our readers, Pat, emailed me to tell me about this LifeHacker article which I found fascinating: Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing than Typing. I’ve been preaching this stuff for years! Now there’s Science involved. Who knew?

That said, I would rather have you type your Morning Pages than not do them at all. But I’d also rather have you at least try writing by hand for 30 days before making that decision.

If you have no hands, you’re off the hook.

Do I have to do them in the morning?

Julia’s Answer: Yes. Hence the name, smartypants.

My Answer: Yes, if you can.

According to Julia, you should set your alarm 20 minutes earlier, wake up and write your Morning Pages in bed.

Julia has obviously never spent 20 minutes in the morning with me. (Nevermind in bed.)

I cannot write in bed, and I cannot write immediately upon waking. However, her point is valid. Usually, mornings are the time of day we have most control over. Especially if we’re getting up earlier than normal. Nobody is used to us being available at that time, so they leave us alone. And doing your MP in the morning sets the tone and intention for the day.

I trust myself to get them done early enough. So I shower and get ready for work and go to the café. Then I down four quick shots of espresso and bang out my pages. I’ve been doing this for at least a decade. I average 5-6 mornings per week and have for the past… however many years.

This method works for me. You need to find what method works for you. Maybe you need breakfast first. Or maybe if you leave the house, you won’t get them done. You know you better than I do. Or Julia does.

There are some exceptions when you need to find another time to do your writing. For example, my partner in crime (a.k.a. “The Page”), has to be at work at o’dark thirty. He already gets up at 4:15 AM. Most mornings he can barely get out the door clothed.

If he were to try Julia’s method of “setting your alarm 20 minutes earlier and doing them before getting out of bed,” he’d have to get up at 3:55 AM, with his act already together. And he’d wake me up. And I’d be pissed.

Furthermore, he’d be going to bed at 7 something PM, which would really put a damper on our social life. Not gonna happen.

As another example, my sister is a teacher who has to be at school at 6:30 AM. Plus she’s got a commute and a half to get there. She simply doesn’t have time to do them in the morning. (And she does go to bed at 7 PM; ask her about her social life!)

In both of these cases, I’d recommend doing them at the earliest opportunity. Like the 10:00 coffee break. Or my sister’s AM study hall. Or even during lunch.

If none of that is remotely possible, do them at night. And call them G’night Pages.

Just get ’em done, okay?

Do I have to do them?

Julia’s answer: Yes. They are the core of the program.

My answer: Yes. Now quit your whining and go write.

Should I write for time or number of pages?

Number of pages. This motivates you to actually write instead of staring off into space for 20 minutes and then closing up shop because you’re “done.”

Feel free to write more if you want. I find that once I’m going, the pages just keep filling up. Plus there’s the magic halfway point that many folks experience. You write total drivel for nearly two pages, and then suddenly a moment of truth sneaks out.

Some days you’ll write total drivel. And that’s perfectly fine. As long as it’s three pages of drivel.

But I don’t like Morning Pages!

Exercise makes a great analogy here. I don’t like exercise. But I do it anyway, because I know it’s good for me. Because I like the results of exercise. Because although I hate running, I love having run.

Morning Pages are the same way. They’re not there to be entertaining or make you feel good. They’re like a highly nutritious meal that you eat because you know it’s fabulous for your body. Sometimes they’re like medicine — you just get it down because you want to feel better, fast.

You don’t have to enjoy Morning Pages to do them and benefit from them.

Everyone hates them once in awhile. That’s usually a good sign — it means you’re on the brink of a breakthrough. Keep at it.

I don’t have time.

Yes you do.

I don’t know where to write.

Here are some ideas for writing at home and on the road.

This is pointless and it’s not working.

Thank your inner critic for the feedback and keep writing anyway.

No, really — this is pointless and it’s not working.

To continue the exercise analogy, do you see results two days after starting a new regimen? If my past experience is any gauge, you often feel worse. Then you move on to feeling neutral, and then you start to see results.

If you are hand-writing three pages every day, I promise you — it’s working. Let the effort germinate before you make any decisions about the efficacy.

I don’t know what to write.

Everyone has something to say. Just write stream of consciousness and don’t let the pen stop moving.

Write whatever comes to mind.

But nothing comes to mind.

Describe your surroundings. Document last night’s dreams. Discuss the upcoming day. Make a wish list. Gripe about the weather. Comment on the news.

Just write. Write about how much Morning Pages suck. If you have to, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over. Your brain will get bored with that pretty quickly and come up with something more interesting.

Am I doing it wrong?

No. You are already fabulous.

Can I share my Morning Pages with anyone?

No. Your writing is for YOU. Knowing someone else may read them will make you censor yourself. And inviting criticism on such a raw form of writing is not a good way to nurture your blooming creative soul.

Morning Pages are private.

I’m afraid someone will read my Morning Pages.

Get some ideas for privacy here and here.

As I discussed earlier, if all else fails, try electronic journaling.

Questions or Comments?

If you have a question I didn’t answer, leave it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to address it.

If you want to complain about Morning Pages in good company, also leave a comment below. I won’t commiserate, but other people will likely join in.

Do you have an tricks or success stories with Morning Pages? Please leave that in the comments as well. We need all the encouragement we can get. 😉

16 comments

  1. “As another example, my sister is a teacher who has to be at school at 6:30 AM. Plus she’s got a commute and a half to get there. She simply doesn’t have time to do them in the morning. ”

    Would you find it acceptable to dictate your Morning Pages into a tape recorder during the morning commute and transcribe them later? Or use the tape as a “rough draft” at least?

  2. Interesting question. I guess it would be better than nothing. But handwriting hooks into some part of your brain that typing doesn’t, and talking even less so. It’s similiar to drawing or painting in its ability to kindle your creativity. Most people don’t have the same artistic response with non-handwritten formats. It’s like the difference between drawing and talking about drawing. Make sense? I do, however, think dictation while driving is a great supplemental form of journaling, and I have hours and hours of tape in my archives. 🙂

  3. You made me lol.

    “do i have to do them?

    My answer: Yes. Now quit your whining and go write.”

  4. Thank you for allowing me to bend the rules 🙂
    Now I don’t have to feel guilty about writing at night, since I refuse to get up 30 minutes earlier than the o’dark thirty I already get up at. Also, if you use smaller paper it doesn’t take as long to feel those 3 pages.
    My question is what do you do with the pages after you write them? Julia says not to re-read them, so can you just write and then shred them?

  5. Hilarious! Well done!

    *Running to finish morning pages at 8:38 pm.*

  6. I take the ‘stream of consciousness’ literally and just write run on sentences and thoughts. It’s fun to ramble on without caring about spelling and punctuation. Using different colors of pens and pencils helps to boost creativity,too.

  7. Interesting post. I have of course heard about Julia Cameron’s book, but haven’t tried it – more because I already journal regularly without assistance. But I might check it out – see what else it has to offer.

  8. This is a really interesting post and I have a question. I have tried to do morning pages in the past, but whenever I was writing about things that were worrying/annoying me, that bad feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day. Is this normal?
    I find that when I journal at night, the feeling doesn’t carry on the next day. Maybe ‘morning pages’ might not be for me.

  9. You know our inner critic so well! I have to say that I read “The Artist Way” about the time I picked up journaling again several months ago. The one thing I did take away from it and have continued to follow was writing every morning. Most days I just write two pages and believe me, all the whining you mention has been a part of my experience. But I have persevered and now it has become something I must do. Not that I have great things to say most days, but it has become an important part of my day and sometimes something really important begins to show. So don’t give up folks, it is worth it to carry on.

  10. Personally, I find the morning pages are the piece of the program to which I’m least resistant. I’ve kept them off and on for years, but I’ve been doing them quite faithfully this past year. I don’t do them in bed, but they are the first thing I do after I sleepwalk over to the coffee pot and get my first jolt. Sometimes I get out just a page, and sometimes I don’t want to stop writing and the 20 minutes turns into an hour or more of writing. I love them because I don’t have to edit and it is amazing what insights come through in unexpected moments. I don’t get that gift every day. But, when those flashes come, I feel certain the morning pages were the only pathway for them into my consciousness.

    Now, the weekly artist date? That’s what I find hard.

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! At last someone has said what I’ve felt for years – that Morning Pages are just JOURNALING. I’ve been doing them for years and couldn’t see a real difference.

    I am fortunate that, like you, I have the luxury of writing first thing in the morning, and yes, I often go on for more than 3 pages.
    Thanks for taking on this project – I am really enjoying it.

  12. Hey, what about the participating blogs in the sidebar? I’d love to check out what other people are writing on this project and I’m not finding much when I click on the comments. Thanks!!

  13. “This is pointless and it’s not working.
    Thank your inner critic for the feedback and keep writing anyway.”

    This was amazing, I literally burst out laughing!

  14. Should you ever reread any of your morning pages? I do electronic morning pages. If the idea is to get everything off your mind and onto the paper, then should you just delete it when you’re done writing? Is there any reason to go back and reread them?

  15. I find the technique to have painful side effects. Years ago I discovered this on my own without having heard of this book. I was writing close to 2000 words and not doing it daily. But what I found was that it made audible so many thoughts that I had not realized I was having that I found myself in a lot of mental anguish from all the noise and found it very easy to bite somebody’s head off or just generally have a bad couple of days. After the few days, often I would have a release of the pressure and a very clear insight into my life which helped me solve some problems. But it required the courage to go through a very painful few days and it makes me not want to do this writing. Does anybody else find this to be distressing in this way?

  16. Hi , I’ve been doing these pages ( 3 sides of A4 ) for a month now , I’m loving the results but am desperate to get the time I takes me down ! I’ve seen 15 min quoted and now maximum 30 , what’s the secret ? I thought I was a fast writer !