Freewrite. Brain dump. Journaling. Morning Pages. All of these systems help us get our ideas out of our heads and onto the page. A page we can then take a step back from and look at objectively. Engaging in free flow writing (either by handwriting or typing) helps us tap into our subconscious. I used to laugh at Flannery O’Connor’s quote: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Really, O’Connor? You have to read what you write before you know what you’re thinking? THEN I started freewriting and realized I had a ton of ideas I didn’t realize were in my brain. As I would start writing free flow, ideas would show up, and I asked, “Where the heck did you come from?” So I no longer laugh at O’Connor. She knew what she was talking about because really, I don’t know what I think until I write it down.
Regular freewrites are something I’ve practiced for years. When I was an English teacher, I would have students engage in a daily freewrite for 10-15 minutes at the start of class. Like me, they used to scoff at the power of the freewrite, and then something magical would happen: A problem they were facing at home was resolved through writing. The essay they thought they couldn’t write “just suddenly showed up, Mrs. Scott.” Told you so. They took risks. They were more confident. And self-doubt started to melt away.
See, the thing with freewrites is they aren’t necessarily about writing. Of course, you are writing, but freewrites aren’t only for writers (be they authors, bloggers, freelancers, or poets). Freewrites work for everyone. The student overwhelmed with a biology project. The 24 year old who’s trying to figure out what job she should take. The mom who needs to find a way to fit in planning a surprise birthday party on top of managing everyone’s schedule. The new blogger who doesn’t have a clue what her niche is or what she should be writing about. Freewrites help painters, they help musicians, they help runners, they help actors.
SO WHAT ARE MORNING PAGES?
I first came across the term “morning pages” in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’ll give you her definition of what morning pages are:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
Mornings pages are simply another style of freewriting or brain dumping. While Cameron gets specific about 1) writing your pages first thing in the morning and 2) writing three pages by hand each morning, like any other freewrite, morning pages should be adapted to work for YOU.
- If you are not used to writing by hand, three full pages may seem impossible. You hand starts cramping after the first page and you think, “No way.” So only write on page a day. Once you get comfortable writing one page, challenge yourself to write two.
- Some people may not be able to write by hand and need to type. That’s totally fine. You can absolutely type morning pages.
- What about you night owls? Those of you who think better in the evening or late at night might prefer to do this exercise then rather than when you first wake up.
The idea of the morning pages is to freewrite every day for a certain amount of pages (or time). You should pick a specific page number or time to write because you want to hold yourself accountable. Not giving yourself a specific goal is setting yourself up to fail. You might start out writing 2-3 pages a day, but then you only write a paragraph one morning because you’re rushed. Guess what? The next morning, it’s just easier to write a paragraph. Pretty soon, the most you’re writing each day is a handful of sentences, and missing out on the benefits of freewriting.
DO THIS: Make a commitment to write “morning” pages at the same time every day + set a goal to write for either a certain amount of time (20 minutes) or to write a specific amount of pages (3) each day.
MY MORNING PAGES EXPERIMENT
My morning pages experiment started last December. I had just finished reading chapter one of The Artist’s Way, and while I had used freewriting exercises in the past, I was out of practice. I wrote three pages by hand the first two days and realized I needed to cut down to two. I preferred writing in the morning, but mornings are busy, and while I saw a benefit to writing these mornings pages almost instantly, two pages worked better for me. So I stuck with two and I still write only two pages each morning.
Why have mornings work for me? Because I’m a morning person. I already had a morning routine, so I worked in the morning pages to be part of this routine. This helped me remember to write each day. I’ve also preferred writing in the morning as a way to clear my head before the day starts. I find I am more calm and focused, ready to take the day on after I write my pages.
Did morning pages really help? Yeah. They did. Something that I often do is write a problem I am having at the top of the page. For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote, “I can’t figure out my planning system.” Then I start to write about the problem. I write WHY it’s a problem. I describe HOW it’s affecting me. And I write about WHY I don’t want it to be a problem any longer. As I do, solutions show up. Say what you will, but I like to think that the universe is waiting for us to ask. I ask for help with a problem I’m having, put in the work (aka the writing) and I get my answer.
AND YOU CAN TOO!
THE BENEFITS OF MORNING PAGES
I already said this, but I’ll say it again because I want it to sink in: Morning pages aren’t only for writers. If you run an Etsy shop selling your beautiful embroidery, don’t dismiss morning pages. If you are an opera singer, don’t laugh at the idea of writing morning pages.
Regular freewrites will...
- Clear your mind, like meditating. Let your subconscious take over. Let your mind run free; don’t think about what you are writing.
- Help you focus. This might be on what you need to take care of for the day. Goals you’ve set for yourself. Or a concern you have about work.
- Show you the way. If you write about the same problem, the same complaint, each day, you’re eventually going to do something about it.
Like being lost in the woods, the morning pages will help a path emerge, but only if we write them.
Cameron says sitting down to write your morning pages each day is like “Greeting your shadow and taking it out for a cup of coffee.” These pages are a clearing exercise that lead you to have more consciousness and awareness. "What you have been doing is wiping the mirror. Each day's morning pages take a swipe at the blur you have kept between you and your real self.”
HOW TO MAKE MORNING PAGES WORK FOR YOU
- Experiment and find out what works best for you: Morning or night? Page length or time frame? How many pages? How much time? The create a routine so you can keep at it.
- At night, list areas you need help in. In the morning, write about one of these areas in the morning pages. [OR do the exact opposite: write down a problem first thing in the morning and come back to it that night.]
- Cameron suggests you protect your artist by refusing to show anyone your morning pages or even reread them at first. Morning pages are meant to be raw and rough, so sharing them with someone who doesn't get it, probably isn't the best idea.
- When or if you do reread your morning pages, don’t judge yourself. Search through them for nuggets of inspiration; hidden jewels among the mass of language.
Do you write any style of morning pages or brain dumps on a regular basis? What’s your favorite way to deal with “brain clutter” and come up with new ideas?