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Can’t “find the time” to write? Try the morning pages

“In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it,” writes Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

If you’ve been following along my spiritual spring cleaning journey, you’ll know I’m working through Cameron’s 12-week course to rediscover my creative drive and reprioritize my writing life.

Elizabeth Gilbert swears by the book: “Without The Artist’s Way, there would have been no Eat, Pray, Love.”

(Talk about a glowing recommendation!)

And friends, as I’m getting ready to kick off week six, I’m delighted to report that it’s working like a charm. I’ve completed all the exercises and readings, I’m writing daily, and I’m learning to let go of third-draft problems in the first draft.

Most importantly, I’ve made creativity my first priority every single day for the past five weeks.

For someone like me who’s been writing stories since they were old enough to hold a pencil (and telling stories before that) — there’s no better feeling in the world than rekindling the flame with my inner muse after a long, harsh creative winter.

Today, I want to share my experience with perhaps the most valuable tool in the whole course: the morning pages.

What are morning pages and why are they necessary?

Cameron says, “There are two pivotal tools in creative recovery: the morning pages and the artist date.” (We’ll talk about the artist date next week.)

The morning pages process, for lack of a better word, is simple: wake up a little earlier than usual to put pen to paper and write whatever’s on your mind — “all that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity.”

(Which is why it’s important that no one but you ever reads them.)

According to Cameron, morning pages are:

  • non-negotiable
  • food for your inner artist
  • a way to silence your inner censor
  • the primary tool for creative recovery

I write my morning pages right after I wake up, while sipping that first, vital cup of coffee. That way, the events of the day can’t cloud my brain, because the day hasn’t happened yet.

How to write the morning pages

Cameron suggests writing three full pages of long-hand, but I don’t always make three pages. I always write at least one full page, but I don’t limit myself one way or the other. I write whatever comes to mind, no matter how much space it takes, until I feel empty and satisfied.

There’s no wrong way to do the morning pages, but I essentially use them as a brain dump. I write down my plans for the day, the tasks for the week. Sometimes I jot down observations — what the cat is doing, the traffic noise on the highway below our apartment block.

And sometimes, I have creative breakthroughs right there on the page. I “saw” one of my main characters in my mind for the very first time while writing my morning pages a couple of weeks ago.

Often, I bury my anxieties and doubts in those pages. I let myself whine when I need to, but I also lift myself up.

Early on, I wrote a letter to my inner editor (for one of the weekly activities) to put her back in her place:

“Rest assured there is a time and place for your criticism, but it is not here — not yet. Remember, the writer came before the editor. Your place in this delicate equation has been overemphasized.”

Phew, that felt good!

(And, thanks to the morning pages, my inner critic has kept quiet, for the most part.)

Hello, inspiration, my old friend

The biggest benefit I’ve noticed is that my muse is “talking” to me again.

One of the things I missed most during my creative winter was “writing” in my head while out and about — paying attention, taking mental notes of happenings, snippets of dialogue that might be useful for future stories.

This is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. (I’m sure many of my fellow writers can relate.) If you ever see me in public and I look like I’m off in La-la Land, I’m listening to the muse.

That inner muse fell silent last year, but she’s back now and more chatty than ever — all thanks to the morning pages.

Ideas for the morning pages

Truly, there is no wrong way to do the morning pages. All you have to do is put pen to paper. Don’t plan a destination — simply let your mind wander and see where it takes you. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results!

Here are some ideas for those mornings you’ll inevitably feel stuck (sourced from my own experience):

  • Upcoming tasks
  • Fears and insecurities holding you back from writing
  • Tiny, niggling thoughts floating around in your brain
  • Observe what’s happening in the present moment
  • Negative beliefs about your work ethic, talent, etc.
  • Positive affirmations about your work ethic, talent, etc.

At the end of each week, check in with yourself. Did you do all the morning pages for that week? How did it go?

Don’t worry about goal-setting at this point. The morning pages give your inner artist time and space to breathe, create, and play. Don’t fret about using the morning pages to tick any boxes off your writerly to-do list.

Whether you had some major creative breakthroughs or you simply wrote down how you were feeling — it doesn’t mean you “failed”. Every word counts toward your creative recovery.

Learn more about the morning pages in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self*.

*This is not a paid promotion or an affiliate program. I highly recommend this book because I believe in it wholeheartedly. The advice and exercises within have transformed my writing life and helped me reclaim control of my creativity — that, to me, is worth more than all the money in the world.

If you’re struggling to “find the time” to write, I highly suggest trying the morning pages. I’ve only just started, but I can’t envision a thriving creative life without them.

What other steps do you take to reclaim your creativity?

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