Julia Cameron recommends morning pages in The Artist’s Way, and it basically involves writing 3 pages first thing every morning. Three pages about anything. Stream of consciousness, fiction, non-fiction, journalling, random words, the dream you had last night, the weather, whatever. Just three pages, preferably written not typed.
I’ve done this on and off for about 5 years but last year I made the commitment to do them every single day in 2014. And I did. I used to do them at sporadic times of day, but last year I slotted them in at 6am so they were usually the first thing I did. Some days they weren’t. I sometimes have long lies, 5am starts or I run late, but they were done, and that’s the main thing.
Julia suggests A4 pads; I use A5 because I’m fussy about the pads I write in, and these Paperchase ones are currently my favourite. So far this year, I’ve done them every day too, as they’ve now become habit. And here’s what I’ve learned from doing them daily for a year…
A set time helps
Doing them at the same time more or less every day is what made them a habit. Or indeed, doing them as soon as I got out of bed, be it at 6am or 10am. Now, it feels wrong if I don’t do them.
Perseverance is handy
It didn’t come easy to start with. I’d say it took me about 4 months before I got to the stage where I didn’t have to remind or force myself to do them.
I know when I don’t do them
As is the case with meditation, if I don’t do these pages in the morning, I feel it for the rest of the day. It bugs me until I do them, and I feel my thoughts aren’t as clear. I need to do them before I attempt any other sort of writing.
First thing in the morning is a good time to free write
Despite what Julia says, this will not be the optimum time for everyone, but its the optimum time for me. I like the fact that my head hasn’t been polluted with any of the day’s work or drama. I can just get on and write whatever’s swirling around in there, and clear my head out ready for the rest of the day.
They help me work out my thoughts and solve problems
Often, just writing my plans for the day helps me get my head straight. Or writing down different thoughts that are in my head about whatever’s bugging me. I’ve found solutions to personal problems, ways of dealing with feelings, answers to decisions, solutions to ‘stuck’ stories. The channels of communication to my subconscious are at their clearest first thing in the morning, and answers will come. I may need to write about them over a few mornings, but I have faith they will come. They always do.
They make other writing easier
They act as a brain dump, so I get my worries, frustrations and blocks on paper and out of my head. This helps the rest of my writing flow.
Bad writing is better than no writing
Initially I would stress because I’d written pages of drivel, but then I realised that this is kind of the point. Some days the words are profound or useful. Mostly, the words are not. It’s the process, not the outcome that matters here.
Use a decent pen
I’ve tried using fancy multi-coloured ink things in an effort to be all artistic and stuff. I’ve also tried using any old scabby ballpoint I can find. Neither is good because I need to write fast and I need to not care about how it looks. I try to always use pens I enjoy writing with. To me its plain ole Papermate Flexigrip.
Make a note of any good ideas that come out
Sometimes I’ll come across a solution to a problem, either in real life or in something I’m writing, or I’ll come up with a great idea for a story. I underline these as I write so that I can find them. I’ve learned the hard way that reading through pages and pages to find that one paragraph I’ve written about how to end that tricky short story, is not fun.
They don’t always come easy
If I don’t do them first thing, I struggle when I do finally do them. I start loads of sentences with ‘I have no idea what to write now’. Sometimes when I do write them first thing, I struggle anyway. But even writing ‘I don’t know what to write’ is better than nothing. Writers Block occurs when you don’t write, not because you don’t know what to write. So keep writing!
They make you a better writer
I absolutely swear by this. For me its a combination of things – the discipline, the idea generation, the getting-all the-crap-out-of-your-head thing. Last year I wrote more short stories, and better short stories than I ever had before. These pages helped.
Sometimes they’re just a moan
Often I just write 3 pages about whatever or whoever is pissing me off. I may feel quite negative as I write them but I feel happier once they’re written. Getting all that negative stuff out of my head and onto the page leaves me feeling calmer and more positive for the day ahead.